Right of Workers to Demand a Ballot Before Industria Action is Taken

New Clause 3 – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 22nd April 1980.

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5'(1) Whenever action is contemplated by a trade union in furtherance of a trade dispute, any member of that union whose participation in such action may be required under the rules of the union, or because of that employee's membership of the union, or because of his employment by an employer with whom the dispute is contemplated, may give notice in writing to the committee of management or other governing body of the union that he wishes a ballot to be held on the question whether such action should be undertaken by the union.
10(2) If 15 per cent. of the total membership of a union whose participation in action in furtherance of a trade dispute may be required under the rules of the union, or 500 such members, whichever is the lesser number, give the notice specified in subsection (1) before the commencement of such action, the committee of management or other governing body of the union shall give directions for a ballot to be held on the question specified in the said subsection.
15(3) The persons entitled to vote in a ballot under this section shall be all those members of a union whose participation in the action contemplated by the union may be required under the rules of the union and who are members of that union as set out in the latest return to the Certification Officer.
20(4) A ballot under this section shall be so conducted, in the employer's time, as to secure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, all those entitled to vote have an opportunity of voting, and of doing so in secret.
25(5) In the event of a ballot being held in accordance with the provisions of this section, the provisions of section 13 (Acts in contemplation of furtherance of trade disputes) of the 1974 Act shall not apply in respect of any act done in furtherance of the trade dispute concerned by any person or by or on behalf of the trade union concerned—
(a) between the day following the receipt by the committee of management or other governing body of the union of the number of notices specified in subsection (2) and the day following the publication of the result of the said ballot; and,
30(b) if more than 50 per cent. of those voting in the said ballot voted against the action contemplated by the union, at any time after the publication of the result of the said ballot.
(6) In the event of there not being a majority for industrial action, it shall not be open to any member of the union to request a further ballot under the provisions of this section for a period of 28 days following the publication of the result of the ballot.
35(7) The provisions of this section shall not apply to any ballot which may be held during the course of industrial action or in the event of any ballot being held by the executive of the union in contemplation of such union action.
40(8) In this section references to a trade union include references to a branch or section of a trade union, and references to the committee of management or other governing body include references to a branch or section committee.'.—(Mr. John Browne.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester 3:56 pm, 22nd April 1980

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we may take the following:

Amendment (a) to the new clause, in line 6, after 'union', insert: 'or, in confidence, to his employer, the receipt of such notices to be vouched by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service or other similar body'.

New clause 2—Secret ballot to be held before commencement of trade dispute:'(1) It shall not be lawful for any trade union to call a strike or any other form of industrial dispute prior to the holding of a secret ballot of its members in accordance with the following provisions.(2) The ballot shall be held on a working day within the next seven working days following the decision by the trade unions to call a strike or other form of industrial action, and shall be conducted by the trade unions concerned.(3) A simple majority of those voting shall be required to validate the decision to strike or hold other forms of industrial action.(4) In the event of a strike or other industrial action being called without the obtaining of such a majority, or in the event of the other provisions of this section being disregarded by the trade union concerned, section 14 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 shall not have effect for the purpose of any action in tort which may be taken.'.

New clause 4—Provision of ballots in relation to industrial disputes:'1. (a) 15 per cent. or 500 employees (whichever is the less) at any particular place of work shall be entitled to serve a notice of intent in writing on their trade union requesting that a ballot should be held for the purpose of obtaining a decision or ascertaining the views of employees as to the calling or ending of a strike or other industrial action.(b) The ballot shall fall within the purposes mentioned in section 1, subsection 3 below, and the certification officer shall cause payments to be made towards expenditure incurred by the trade union in respect of such a ballot.(c) Any such ballot shall be held within a period of time, after the receipt by the trade union of notice of intent in writing, not exceeding 14 days.(d) Any strike or other industrial action called or pursued in defiance of or before the result of such a ballot shall not fall within the terms of sections 13 and 14 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974.'.

New clause 5—Right of trades union members to requisition secret ballots:'(1) Notwithstanding any provision of its rules it shall be the duty of a trade union, on the requisition of such number of members as is hereinafter specified to conduct or cause to be conducted a ballot of its members for the purpose of seeking their opinions on any of the matters set out below, that is to say—

  1. (a) the calling or ending of a strike or other industrial action;
  2. (b) a resolution to approve an instrument of amalgamation or transfer in accordance with the Trade Union (Amalgamations, etc) Act 1964;
  3. (c) the matters referred to in section 1, subsection 3(b) to (3)(d).
(2) The number of members necessary for a requisition under the foregoing subsection shall be—
  1. (a) in the case of the calling or ending of a strike or other industrial action under subsection 1(a) above, one twentieth of the members involved in such strike or industrial action;
  2. (b) in the case of the purposes referred to in subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c) above one-twentieth of the members of the trade union.
(3) The requisition must state the questions which are to be the subject of the ballot, and must be signed by the requisitionists and be deposited at the registered office of the trade union and may consist of several documents in like form each signed by one or more requisitionists.(4) On receipt of such a requisition, and pending the result of the required ballot, a trade union shall not take any action to give effect to any proposal or proposals which is or are the subject of the ballot.(5) If the trade union does not within twenty-one days from the date of deposit of the requisition proceed duly to conduct a ballot or cause it to be conducted, the requisitionists, or any of them duly nominated as proxies for this purpose, may themselves conduct a ballot or cause it to be conducted, but any ballot so conducted shall not be held after the expiration of three months from the said date.(6) A ballot so conducted or caused to be conducted shall in all cases be so conducted as to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that those voting may do so in secret.(7) It shall be the duty of any official of a trade union to make available to the requisitionists, or to any proxy duly nominated under subsection (5) above, such documents, records and facilities as are necessary for the proper conduct of the ballot.(8) Any reasonable expenses incurred by the requisitionists by reason of the failure of the trade union to conduct a ballot or cause it to be conducted shall be repaid to the requisitionists by the trade union. The certification officer shall have the power to make payments in respect of such expenditure as if it were expenditure incurred on a ballot to which section 1 applies.(9) the certification officer may, on application by a number of members of a trade union hereinafter specified, make payments in respect of expenditure likely to be reasonably incurred in preparing the requisition in accordance with subsections (1) to (5).(10) The number of members necessary for an application under the foregoing subsection shall be—
  1. (a) in the case of the calling or ending of a strike or other industrial action under subsection 1(a) above, one per cent. of the members involved in such strike or industrial action or 50 whichever is the less;
  2. (b) in the case of the purposes referred to in subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c) above one per cent. of the total membership of the trade union in question or 500 whichever is the less;
(11) The certification officer may refuse to make the payments referred to in subsections (8) and (9) above if members of trades unions seeking the ballot or requisition in question are acting unreasonably, vexatiously or frivolously.(12) A trade union shall not be bound under this section to circulate any statement if, on the application either of the trade union or any other person who claims to be aggrieved, the court is satisfied that the rights conferred by this section are being abused to secure needless publicity for defamatory matter and the courts may order the trade union's cost on an application under this section to be paid in whole or in part by the requisitionists notwithstanding that they are not parties to the application.".

New Clause 6—Right of workers to demand a ballot before or during industrial action:'(1) Whenever action disruptive or likely to be disruptive to full production of an employing organisation in furtherance of a trade dispute is either contemplated by a trade union or has begun but in case of pay negotiations, not before a definitive final offer in writing has been made by the employing organisation and acknowledged in writing by the union, but not within 28 days after publication of the result of a previous ballot under this Act any member of that union whose participation in such action may be required who is employed by the employing organisation may give signed notice in writing either to the committee of management of the union or in confidence to the employing organisation, the receipt of which notices to be vouched by ACAS or other similar body that he wishes a secret ballot to be held on the question of whether such action should be taken by the union.(2) If 15 per cent. of the persons employed by the employing organisation who are members of a union whose participation in action in furtherance of a trade dispute may be required, or 500 of such members whichever is the lesser number, give the notice specified in subsection (1) and such notice is certified by ACAS as correct, before the commencement of such action, the committee of management directions for a secret ballot to be held on the question specified in the said subsection (1) before the beginning of any disruptive action. If such notice is received and certified by ACAS after the commencement of such action or a previous ballot under this Act the committee of management of the union shall give directions for the secret ballot to be held within fourteen days of the receipt of such notice and such action is to be immediately suspended pending the outcome of the ballot.(3) The persons entitled to vote in a ballot under this section shall be all those members of a union whose participation in the action whether contemplated or begun may be required and who are employed by the employing organisation and are members of the union as set out in the latest return to the Certification Officer.(4) A ballot under this section shall be conducted whenever practical in the employing organisation's time so as to secure that so far as is reasonably possible all those entitled to vote have an opportunity of voting and of doing so in secret. The question to be asked in the ballot is to be decided by the committee of management of the union and the employing organisation. In case of dispute, the question to be decided by an independent body. If the specific unions fail to organise such a ballot within 14 days of receipt of notices as specified in subsection (2) the employing organisation may arrange the ballot with the help if required of ACAS, the Electoral Reform Society or similar body.(5) In the event of a ballot being held or requested in accordance with this section the provisions of sections 13 (Acts in contemplation of furtherance of trade disputes) of the 1974 Act shall not apply in respect of any act done in furtherance of the trade dispute concerned by any person or by or on behalf of the trade union concerned:

  1. (a) from the day following the receipt by the committee of management and/or employing organisation of the number of notices specified in subsection (2) until the day following the publication of the result of the said ballot; and
  2. (b) if in any employing organisation, more than 50 per cent. of those eligible voting in the said ballot voted against the action contemplated or undertaken by the union at any time after the publication of the result of the said ballot.
(6) In this section reference to a union includes a branch or section or group of members of a trade union and references to the committee of management includes a governing body, branch, district or executive Committee of a union or representatives or associations or similar bodies acting on behalf of non union or staff employees.(7) In this section reference to an employing organisation includes a state, public or privately owned company or corporation whether incorporated or not or operating division or subsidiary thereof.'.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

It is well known that Britain is at a crossroads between becoming either a developed technological country or an underdeveloped industrial country. To attain the former goal and a justified high standard of living, we must achieve a technological revolution. To achieve that we must, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, restore sanity to our industrial relations.

Speaking personally, I am not anti-trade unions, but I share the views of many of my fellow countrymen, including many rank and file trade union members, that in an alarming number of instances certain trade union leaders appear to have abused the great power vested in them by their rank and file membership. Furthermore, that abuse has not been restricted to conditions of work or pay, but it has, on occasions, been extended to the very politics of our nation and, as such, has abused our basic form of democratic government.

Sadly, I believe that those union leaders have been allowed and encouraged to abuse their power by weak national leadership. I believe that the true blame for chaotic industrial relations, demoralised managements, low productivity, high unemployment and the fact that we now have one of the worst paid work forces in the developed world lies in this House. This is where the blame for weak leadership must lie, and this is where the answers must be found. So many trade union leaders profess democracy but few practise it. Many practise a form of either partial or complete dictatorship—a dictatorship disguised under a veil of democracy. Today, a man must be all but a hero to lead a vote, by show of hands, against his union leader's recommendations at the average mass meeting of his union.

The result of the last general election convinced me that the majority of our fellow countrymen and, more importantly on this issue, vast numbers of trade union rank and file expect the present Government to induce the trade unions to accept democracy when they interfere with their members' basic right to work where jobs exist. To allow for that, I believe that trade union members on the shop floor should be offered the basic democratic right to a secret ballot on matters concerning industrial action and that a minority should be able to trigger such a secret ballot.

I emphasise that such a mandatory right of the worker is definitely not the same as a mandatory ballot. I envisage a mandatory right for the shop floor worker, which he is free to use—or not—on a voluntary basis. I have therefore tabled two new clauses to this vital Bill, new clauses 3 and 6. I feel that they should be read in conjunction with each other. The second new clause is a more comprehensive version of the first and overcomes many of the potential problems raised by a secret ballot.

The purpose of introducing the clauses is to stimulate debate in the House and to persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to accept the principle of a secret ballot triggered by a minority of union members. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to introduce a professionally drafted clause in another place or make a firm commitment to the House to introduce the secret ballot in separate legislation in this Parliament.

The aim of the clause is to reintroduce democracy for workers within their unions regarding industrial action, both in furtherance of a trade dispute and in furtherance of political aims, by allowing members to trigger a democratic secret ballot of their fellow workers. The clauses do not seek to impose a mandatory ballot on the unions from outside. They merely allow for a secret ballot internally triggered.

The main points of the clauses are as follows. Subsection (1) allows a member of a trade union to ask his union, even in confidence, for a secret ballot to be held on whether industrial action, which he is being asked to undertake, should start or continue. In pay negotiations, such a request may not be made before a final pay offer has been received in writing by the union. That is the same provision as that contained in section 173(c) of the United States Labour Code, which allows the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to submit the employer's last offer of a settlement to the employees for approval by secret ballot. Under the subsection, a request for a ballot may not be made within 28 days of a previous ballot.

Subsection (2) defines the minority that is required for a secret ballot trigger—that is, the minority that is required under the clause before any industrial action is suspended, if it has begun, pending the ballot.

Subsection (3) specifies who can vote in a ballot. Subsection (4) describes the conduct of a ballot—namely, to be held in secret in employers' time and the ballot question to be decided by union and employer together or, if disputed, by an independent body. It provides for the company to run a ballot should the union fail to do so.

Subsection (5) describes the sanctions to be imposed should a union fail in its obligations. The sanctions are the removal of section 13 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 immunities, and are identical to the sanctions that are already contained in the Bill for secondary picketing.

Subsection (6) defines unions and includes groups of members of a trade union. It thereby encompasses unofficial actions.

Subsection (7) defines employers' organisations, including operating divisions. It therefore allows local union ballots upon national union actions.

I must emphasise that the new clauses are not professionally drafted and seek only to suggest to my right hon. Friend how some of the main problems in the complex subject of secret ballots may be overcome. In other words, the details as drafted are only suggestions and are in no way sacrosanct.

It is the principle of secret ballots about which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends feel so strongly. I understand that right hon. and hon. Members in the Liberal Party also have strong views. I remind my right hon. Friend that the sentiments set out in the new clauses have been approved by the Conservative trade union national conference on no fewer than three occasions, on the last by a vote of 500 to three.

My right hon. Friend may argue that the ideas contained within the clauses do not fit within the parametres of the Bill. If he does, I shall dispute that. The idea is a voluntary secret ballot. The only imposition is upon trade union leaders to recognise democracy, and only if and when a minority of their members request it. As I have said, the sanctions, including the removal of section 13 TULRA immunities, are entirely consistent with the Bill's present provisions for sanctions under secondary picketing. In my view, the proposal is a mere mouse, a first small step towards a mandatory secret ballot, which Conservative Members and Conservative voters expect of the Government. I submit that my proposal meets the step-by-step criteria of my right hon. Friend.

Finally, my right hon. Friend may argue that there has been no consultation and that the Robens proposal will be a good first step. My reply will be that there have been two months in which to consult on the specific proposal in detail and years—yes, years—in which to consult on the idea of secret ballots.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

As for the Robens amendment, I believe that it will increase rather than decrease the power of trade union leaders. A trade union leader who is a wrecker is far more dangerous to the country than 100 political wreckers on the shop floor. Furthermore, the Robens amendment will leave the poor employer still poorer.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

The hon. Gentleman has spoken a good deal about democracy. Does he agree that the ultimate in democracy is allowing people to make up their own minds, on the basis of a democratic vote within their union, what the rules should be? Is he not aware that many unions already have provisions in their rules for secret ballots and that the rules are determined by the union members? Surely, that is what real democracy is about. Surely, it is not about the imposition of rules on trade unions from this place.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. Like many things that are said about union democracy, what the hon. Gentleman says sounds so good and so abundantly democratic. However, the actual workings are not nearly so convincing. If the hon. Gentleman was correct, there would be no objection to my proposal. I am merely saying that in the unions where he is not correct, members should be free, especially as we are talking about their means of earning their livelihood, to say whether they agree with one man in a union of 2 million members. Without some form of ballot, how can that one man possibly know whether the union should instruct its members to strike?

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the meaning of subsection (8) of new clause 3? It is there stated that references to a trade union include references to a branch or section of a trade union". Does that mean that a branch of a trade union could organise a ballot and take industrial action on its own regardless of the wishes of the rest of the union?

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

No, it does not. The purpose of the subsection is to try to include unofficial action, which may not be action resulting from the policy of the union leader.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. No hon. Member is obliged to give way when he has been called to speak. It is a matter for the hon. Member who is speaking.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

I remind the House that it is the principle of the secret ballot about which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends feel so strongly. We do not hold as sacrosanct the provisions of these unprofessionally drafted clauses; they are merely suggestions. The idea is for a voluntary secret ballot triggered from the shop floor. It is not an imposed or mandatory secret ballot. It is just a first step—a very important first step—that could provide invaluable experience for the future—experience that is now so sadly lacking—upon which to base subsequent legislation for a mandatory secret ballot. I do not believe that this idea will provide a panacea for stopping strikes. At best, it will prevent some strikes and may shorten others.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows that I have supported his Bill as Government policy and that I have kept him informed of my views and my movements. I therefore hope that when he has listened to the debate he will meet the strong feelings on this issue by giving the House a firm commitment to introduce either relevant Government-drafted changes to the Bill in another place or separate legislation later in this Parliament. I believe that the trade union rank and file and the majority of our fellow countrymen expect such a commitment.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

I congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on the clear and pleasant diction with which he read his speech. His vowels were pure and his consonants sharply articulated, but I fear that I cannot congratulate him on the content of his speech, whoever may have been its author or authors. It shows a great deal of evidence of theoretical—

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

—Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

I have not yet come to the end of my first sentence. The hon. Member for Winchester was so worried about his diction that he did not want to give way even to one of his hon. Friends. Now he wants me to give way before I have finished my first sentence. May I ask him to wait another minute or so? I am quite ready to see him stick his neck out and get it wet.

I cannot congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the content of his speech. I intend no disrespect to him, but his speech bears the hallmark of someone who has come to this subject from a theoretical rather than from a practical standpoint.

I do not propose to speak at length because I think that we should not spend a long time on this debate. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that we have before us in the days remaining on Report debates on several subjects of major importance on which there is room for and there is a clear difference of view, both sides of which can be fairly argued. The House should spend its time on the serious issues in the Bill. I am sure the Secretary of State will not wish to waste a lot of time on the clause, and I hope the debate on it will be brought to an end fairly quickly.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my speech was drafted entirely by me without any outside interference. I am amazed that he should consider a secret ballot as being immaterial. To me and many of the people I meet in daily life, see on television or consult, it is of overriding importance.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow 4:15 pm, 22nd April 1980

I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman confess that he wrote the speech himself. I tried hard to think well of him and I was hoping that my good opinion of him could be sustained by his ascribing the authorship of that garrulous nonsense elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman does not know what goes on in industry. He said that it took a lot of courage for one man to get up at an open meeting where there is a show of hands ballot and oppose the union's recommendation. It happens every day of the week. All of us on the Opposition Benches have been present on many occasions when that has happened. The hon. Gentleman cannot read his newspapers very thoroughly, because in the past few weeks there have been some highly publicised mass meetings where workers have turned down the recommendations, either of the union executive or of the shop stewards. Mr. Robinson can provide some evidence of that, can he not?

Tory Members do not know what goes on in the real world. The hon. Member for Winchester spoke as though secret ballots were new in the trade union movement. They go on all the time in many unions. Nor should he assume that a secret ballot will always be a ballot against the holding of a strike. That is the thought behind the clause. The hon. Gentleman did not say that, but we know that is what is behind it. We might ask the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who lost the highest position in Government because of a strike carried out as the result of a secret ballot in the National Union of Mine-workers. No strike ever takes place in that union without a secret ballot, and that is true of many other unions.

The hon. Gentleman asked us to follow the practice of the legislature of the United States of America in this regard. He manifestly is unaware that, in spite of all the legislation in the United States, for many years the number of days lost in strikes per million workers in the United States has always been many times as high—sometimes five or six times as high—as the number of days per million workers lost in strikes in this country. America is nearly the world champion in the number of days lost in strikes per million workers. Therefore, I see no basis for adjuring the House to copy the example of the United States.

Strikes nearly always happen as the result of a lot of straws being put one by one on a camel's back. There is always the final straw. Sometimes people who are investigating strikes get the analysis wrong because they see only the final straw and do not look hard enough at what went before. The Donovan Commission brought out this important factor in its great report. When something happens as a final straw people do not take a ballot. The most common cause of walk-outs in industry is a shop steward being sacked or disciplined—

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

The hon. Lady should not interrupt. She should stick to arguments about the period of 20 weeks. She discredited herself by misleading her constituents in that regard, and I am not disposed to take much notice of her now.

The most common cause of an immediate walk-out at a work place is when a couple of chaps are trying to organise for a trade union in an unorganised place and the employer gets to hear about it and fires them, with the result that the other chaps either walk out or down tools and sit down.

That will happen whatever sort of legislation we have. If those who speak and act for their fellow workers are discriminated against, those fellow workers will not stand for it. There are no circumstances in which anyone will take a ballot in such a case—because a ballot takes time. Anyway, if the employer is refusing his employees the right to join a trade union, who will organise the ballot?

Suppose the workers do not walk out but down tools and sit down, which often happens. Often the employer locks them out. Who will he take a ballot of in order to decide on a lock-out? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if one man can unilaterally decide on a lock-out, where are the pleas of the hon. Member for Winchester for democracy? A lock-out can affect the livelihoods of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of workers. There is no ballot and no consultation with anyone. That is how it often works out.

I appeal to my hon. Friends who wish to speak in the debate not to take too long, because we should try to get rid of this rubbish in an hour or two and get on to the meat of the Bill.

My final point is that if there is to be a ballot to start a strike trade union leaders will have no authority to end it without a ballot. The hon. Member for Winchester says that one trade union leader ought not to have the right, on his own say-so, to call a strike and that it ought to be left to the chaps. Suppose they have a ballot and call a strike. Does the hon. Member suggest that one trade union leader, on his own say-so, should have the right to tell them that, whether they like it or not, they must go back to work?

If there is a ballot before a strike, there must be a ballot to end it and if the hon. Member studies the American experience he will find many examples where there has been great difficulty in getting the chaps back to work in the United States because of the legislation that the hon. Gentleman quoted and applauded.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his general argument would be a great deal stronger but for the fact that so many trade unionists are locked into unions by closed shops and cannot exercise the ultimate discipline on their trade union leaders of saying "I do not like the way that you are running the union. I shall leave it and either not be a trade unionist or join another trade union"?

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

I go along with some of the thought behind what the hon. Gentleman has said. Of course, the existence of the closed shop affects many aspects of industrial relations. I have been a trade unionist all my working life—I was on the executive committee of a trade union for more than 30 years and was its president for five years—and I have never been a great devotee of the closed shop. I am in favour of closed shops, because I am in favour of workers joining their trade unions, but I never sought to get an employer to help me create a closed shop. I always wanted to do it myself. I go along with the hon. Gentleman that far, but the issue before us is not affected by the existence of the closed shop.

Whether a shop is closed or not, if there is a ballot to start a strike there must be a ballot to end it. That is a fact that the hon. Member for Winchester has never faced.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

The hon. Gentleman has just set out the original non sequitur. If people do not want to go on strike, but stay at work, they are in grave danger of losing their union cards and their employment. If there has been a ballot to go on strike and union representatives recommend a return to work without a ballot, those who are not in favour of returning to work will not do so, but they will not lose their union cards or their employment.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

I have never in my life seen so many pheasants flying straight into the guns. Conservative Members really do ask for trouble. What the hon. Gentleman has said is so manifest nonsense that it does not need even an argument against it. If it is dictatorial to compel people to come out, it is dictatorial to compel them to go back. There must be the same mechanisms for both.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

No; I have finished. In fact, I finished two minutes ago and I want this silly debate to come to an end. I appeal to the Secretary of State to bring it to an end as soon as he decently can.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I wish to speak in support of new clause 3, and of new clause 2 in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends.

I should like first to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary for their handling of the Bill. My right hon. Friend set the tone for the debate when he said last week: Change is urgently necessary to give people more control over their own lives—to think and act for themselves free from some of the pressures to which they have been subjected for so long."—[Official Report, 17 April 1980; Vol. 982, c, 1503.] That is a view that Conservative Members unanimously endorse.

I am sorry that, despite the growth of informed opinion in the Conservative Party and the country, the Bill makes no real or sufficient provision for a secret ballot to be held by the work force before a dispute can commence. To permit the omission of such a provision would seem to fly in the face of our national history and the growth of working and middle-class political consciousness in the nineteenth century and to date.

Since 1832, political activity in pursuit of democracy has been the goal of working class and trade union leadership. Indeed, the People's Charter published in London in May 1838 contained six points, which were regarded as revolutionary by contemporaries but which we consider to be part of the political complexion of a Western liberal democracy.

The Chartists demanded annual Parliaments, universal male suffrage, no property qualification for Members of Parliament, the payment of Members, equal electoral districts and the ballot—the secret ballot.

Five of the six objectives have been achieved and the secret ballot in which an elector can demonstrate his or her preference for a political party, or not to vote at all, is recognised as important. For hon. Members to deny the application of the democratic processes to any adult Briton would be considered unthinkable, yet the right of the man or woman on the shop floor to participate in the decision-making process in connection with a proposal to strike or to take another form of industrial action is not enshrined in law and will not be unless the Bill is changed.

I cannot rid myself of the knowledge gained in Dartford in the general election that many thousands of blue-collar workers and their families voted Conservative for the first time in greater numbers than ever before because they wanted a radical change in the mechanisms currently obtaining on the shop floor. I cannot permit, in terms of legislation, the drawing of conclusions in opposition which are denied in government.

This view is supported by Sir Leonard Neal who wrote to the The Times on Monday 31 March and said My second doubt about the Bill concerns its failure to give rank-and-file membership the right to demand a ballot "… and There is much evidence of strike-weariness in this country—witness recent events at Ford's of Eastleigh, Cowley, Leyland, private steel, BSC itself, etc.—and of the rank-and-file membership being dragooned into striking despite their obvious inclinations to the contrary, all of which strongly underlines the need for a measure of this sort. In his final paragraph, Sir Leonard says: In dealing with all these undoubtedly difficult matters, we need to bear in mind that although the right to strike is, and must remain a basic freedom, it can never be a right that is superior to all other rights. That is a view that Conservative Members would endorse and they would add that the right to be consulted can never be denied.

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Most Members of Parliament have received a letter today from Mr. Roger Gale, vice-chairman of the Conservative Trades Unionists' Communications Group. [Interruption.] I understand that all Conservative Members have received it, and there are not many of them on the Opposition Benches. He writes: The mandatory right of a worker to demand a secret ballot is not the same as a 'mandatory ballot'. The latter is imposed by Government—as was the 1974 ballot—but the former comes from the unionist himself. It is the latter—and the spectre of the 1974 Railwaymen's Vote—that Jim Prior has used to fend off demands for more meaningful legislation. It is the former—the mandatory right of a worker to demand a secret ballot—that the Conservative Trades Unionists' National Council has endorsed three times in successive meetings and which was backed by 500 votes to 3 at the CTU National Conference in Nottingham. I should like now to commend my own new clause, which provides for a compulsory secret ballot to be held before the commencement of a trade dispute. I part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) in this respect, in that whereas I accept that the trigger mechanism is supported by members of my own party in the Conservative trade union branches, I would prefer Parliament to legislate for the right for a ballot to take place when a strike call is made and on that consideration alone.

I can foresee difficulties when it is necessary to ask 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of a work force to sign a petition requiring a ballot to be held. If I were the shop floor convener of the union of which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is a member, I would demand to see the list of members who had signed the petition, in order to make sure that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Adolf Hitler had not signed in order to make up the numbers and I would consequently know who the moderates are.

Although today we are discussing new clauses whose construction is defective, we hope that the Secretary of State will give us a guarantee or assurance that legislation will be introduced, next Session, or within the lifetime of this Parliament, which will cause secret ballots to be held when a strike call is made.

In conclusion, I remind my right hon. Friend of the verse of a beautiful hymn: Through the night of doubt and sorrowOnward goes the pilgrim band,Singing songs of expectation,Marching to the Promised and. I urge my right hon. Friend to become a pilgrim and to join with us on the road to the Promised Land. By so doing, he will strike a chord that will go beyond this House and through our party to the majority of people who support us today in this crucial debate.

I was speaking to members of my own party in Dartford over the weekend, and one said to me "When you see Jim Prior, tell him to get his spinnaker up and take advantage of the wind that is blowing his way." I hope that my right hon. Friend will do just that.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice , Chester-le-Street

What has been interesting about the speeches so far from the Conservative Benches is that they have illustrated once again the endless ability of Members on the Right wing of the Conservative Party to misunderstand industrial relations problems. They did it in the last Parliament, they did it in the Parliament before that, and they seem to be doing it again in this Parliament.

I am strongly in favour of ballots; in fact, I have taken part in them and helped to organise some trade union ballots—unlike Conservative Members. I am strongly in favour of them, where they are appropriate. They are not always appropriate. The issue, however, is not ballots as such; the issue before the House this afternoon is the new clause.

The truth is that the clause will harm industrial relations, and it will be almost totally unworkable. The first argument against the clause is that it will divide the work force. It is a recipe for minorities to stir up trouble against majorities. It could exacerbate rather than ameliorate organisational and inter-union disputes. Any Conservative Member who doubts that should consider what would happen, for example, in British Leyland if this kind of clause were to be applied. We should be likely, as a consequence, to get a much more divided work force. Conservative Members should ponder that before voting for the clause.

Secondly, it would be likely to cause more unofficial strikes. It would be likely to encourage unions to say "If our unofficial strike strategy is to be interrupted by this kind of action, with ballots demanded by any small group of workers, we shall cause more unofficial strikes"—and it should be remembered that most strikes are unofficial.

The third argument is that it could well prolong strikes rather than make them shorter, because the assumption behind the clause seems to be that minorities are always pacific, where as they are very often militant. It is the militant minorities who will very often use this kind of ballot clause to prolong strikes rather than to shorten them. Conservative Members ought also to consider that point.

The fourth point relates to the authority of trade union leaders. We often hear from Conservatives about the weakness of trade union leaders; indeed they are the first to criticise trade union leaders for not having sufficient authority. What do they think the clause would be likely to do to trade union authority if any small group of workers could demand a ballot during a strike or at any time? Conservative Members ought also to ponder that point.

Then there is the general atmosphere of industrial relations. I do not know whether some of the new Conservative Members remember the Industrial Relations Act. I do not know whether they remember how it soured the general atmosphere of industrial relations in the early 1970s, so that instead of the reforms that were needed in industrial relations, following the Donovan report, we had an Industrial Relations Act which set back industrial relations in this country by at least 10 years.

Let Conservative Members consider what would be likely to happen, particularly if there were a question of removing trade union immunities.

It is for these reasons that the trade union movement would be strongly against the clause; indeed, not just the trade union movement, but the employers as well.

The Engineering Employers' Federation has sent a letter to The Times, as have also some sensible Conservatives. The chairman of the Left-wing Tory Reform Group is reported in The Times today as saying that the Employment Bill critics are "out of touch". I think he is right. He goes on to say that those who are trying to amend the Employment Bill to impose compulsory ballots appear to believe that radical changes in attitude and behaviour can be brought about by the magic wand of merely changing the law". Conservative Members should think about that, too. The trouble is that many Conservatives are still harking back to the Industrial Relations Act. They really want compulsory ballots. That is the truth of the matter. This is just a halfway house to it. They want to remove trade union immunities, and this is one way of doing that. Like the Bourbons, they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, and I hope that the House will treat the clause with the contempt that it deserves.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

I was intrigued by the remarks of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice). He seemed to consider that the record of his Government in industrial relations was very much better than that of the present Government. I seem to remember that last May one of the principal reasons why the Conservative Party was elected to office was that the British public had lost confidence completely during the winter of discontent, when there was rubbish on the streets and when it was not possible to get the dead buried.

New clause 4, which is tabled in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends, differs in detail, but not in principle, from the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I know that the House is short of time and I shall not go into the differences of detail in drafting. I shall restrict my remarks to the principle, as I feel strongly that this is a matter of principle. Secret ballots are close to the heart of every true democrat. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford, (Mr. Dunn) said, this principle has been fought for long and hard during election periods. It is difficult to argue against it. We should examine the Government's proposals in the light of that principle, rather than considering the sordid question of what trade union leaders are prepared to accept.

The Government are merely offering cash to finance ballots. If trade unions accept the recommendations of the TUC, the cash will be refused, and that will be the end of the matter. A union member will then be forced to go on strike without his having been consulted by a union boss, who might well be motivated by political considerations. He may have little or no regard for the desires or interests of the ordinary working man.

I submit that one of our great problems is that the trade union movement has its own political party which it finances. Many trade union leaders have a vested interest in ensuring that all Conservative Governments fail. Some trade union leaders may be tempted to use the weapon of a strike as a means of undermining the Government and their policies. As has been pointed out, what better example could be given than that of the proposed one-day general strike. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated that that strike will be a political strike.

It is therefore essential to give the rank and file—the majority of whom are interested only in their livelihoods, their companies and their country—the right to express its view. It is only right that it should be able to overrule the politicos, who often masquerade as trade union leaders.

Alternatively, the union member could be consulted as at a mass meeting. However, I challenge the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). He seems to have a lot of faith in mass meetings. It is clear from television programmes that organisers often do not count hands. It is very difficult for a man who wishes to vote against a strike—that has been called by shop stewards—to declare himself. He is often frightened by the bully boys.

I have spoken to many dockers in Hull. They have told me that the best way of asking for a swim in the docks is to vote against the shop steward's recommendation at a mass meeting. Although I do not necessarily agree with the Government's arguments against a mandatory ballot, as provided in the 1971 Act, I understand them. If a ballot could be described as a Government or bosses' ballot, trade unionists might close ranks and vote in favour of their leaders. New clauses 3 and 4 therefore give workers a right to call for a ballot.

It is insignificant whether the percentage involved is 15 per cent., 5 per cent., or 10 per cent. If the Government were to suggest a few percentage points more or less, those of my hon. Friends who support these new clauses would agree. By analogy, trade unionists should have a right to call a ballot just as shareholders have a right to call an extraordinary meeting of a limited company. Men have to make a momentous decision before striking.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that shareholders of private companies should always be balloted before money is given to the Conservative Party?

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

Actions, such as those involved in a take-over of a limited company are often subject to the approval of a general meeting of shareholders.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington 4:45 pm, 22nd April 1980

Many hon. Members wish to speak and I have undertaken not to speak for too long. A strike affects not only a man's livelihood, but the well-being of his family. In extreme cases, his job may be put at risk. We should remember that strikers will not receive the same amount of social security and although I support that measure, it is only fair that they should have a right in law to express their views.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) that if the Government had made more concessions and had made closed shops illegal, there might have been less feeling among Conservative Members about secret ballots. People talk more and more about consultation and industrial democracy. What is more important for a worker than to be consulted before a strike? There is no doubt that public opinion demands secret ballots. I accept that the Government's proposals are exactly the same as those that appeared in the manifesto. However, my right hon. Friends should bear in mind that people do not read the small print in manifestos. The general public wanted secret ballots and they felt that if they voted Conservative and returned a Conservative Government, that would be achieved. Whatever appeared in the manifesto, if we do not give the public that which they expect, they will become disillusioned.

The issue is one of principle, not practicality. I appeal to my right hon. Friends to listen to the overwhelming mass of opinion, to Conservative trade unions and to many of their Back Benchers. I beseech them to meet us more than halfway. They should undertake to introduce further amendments in the House of Lords, or, if that is not practical, to accept in principle that more legislation should be brought in during the lifetime of this Parliament. If they accept that principle, they should promise to introduce a Green Paper in order that methods may be discussed.

The Government should put their trust in the sound common sense of the working man. They should cut the chain of thraldom and end the monopoly power of trades unions. I hope that I shall not have to vote against the Government. However, unless I receive some assurances, I shall have to support whichever new clause is put to the vote.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , Newton

I am glad to have an opportunity to participate briefly in the debate. Like my hon. Friends, I believe that it is important for the House to dispose quickly of these new clauses. I am sure that no hon. Member wishes to sit here until 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock in the morning discussing such peripheral matters.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) indicated that Tory Members felt strongly about this subject. I suspect that any Conservative Member who is called to speak will give vent to strong feelings. Those of us who have been at the sharp end of industrial relations—as shop stewards, conveners and branch secretaries—should try to convey to Conservative Members the practicalities of life on the shop floor. Conservative Members have a theoretical approach. The hon. Member for Winchester spoke about "national strikes". There are very few national strikes. The overwhelming majority of industrial disputes fake only one to four days. They are settled quickly. They are brush fires that have arisen as a result of strong feeling about an issue on the shop floor.

The clause does not differentiate between small brush fires—which occur throughout industry—and national strikes. I recommend that Conservative Members should read one of their favourite newspapers, The Daily Telegraph. The leader in yesterday's edition discussed this Back Bench proposal, and stated that in the end this is a proposition which falls down on the test of practicality. Most strikes and stoppages are transitory affairs, which could only be rendered more complex and time-consuming by the withdrawal of legal immunities unless ballots had first been held.

Photo of Mr John Gorst Mr John Gorst , Barnet Hendon North

On the other hand, The Times today suggested that this group of proposals should be supported by the House.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , Newton

Well, I could quote from The Times, The Guardian and many other newspapers. All I can say is that The Times does not have a very good industrial relations record itself, and it should keep its opinions to itself until it puts its own house in order.

It has been pointed out that, if ballots are held to start strikes, equally it is necessary to have ballots to stop strikes. Contrary to the views of many Conservative Members, the vast majority of shop stewards and full-time union officials spend more time keeping their members in work than persuading them to come out. One of the weaknesses in adopting clauses of this nature is that, once a strike has started as a result of a ballot, the chances are that individuals will flatly refuse to go back until what they felt were their just demands had been met in full. That would create anarchy and chaos in industry.

Many unions already hold ballots before participating in industrial action on a national basis. Many unions, my own included, have ballots for every single officer elected, from the assistant district secretary up to the general secretary or president of the union. Our officials always lay their policies before the membership in a manifesto and they are the subject of all sorts or checks and balances in relation to the form that industrial relations should take.

Conservative Members have a love-hate relationship with trade union leaders. The hon. Member for Winchester made the point that one of the great problems was that trade union leaders were a weak and spineless lot, incapable of giving proper leadership to the rank and file. He claimed that that was why the leadership had passed to the militants on the shop floor. Later he attacked the leaders as dictators and demanded what individual had the right to call thousands of workers out on strike and threby put their jobs in jeopardy. Conservatives must make up their minds about trade union leaders—whether they are to be responsible or whether they are to take account of the collective views of their members. Conservatives must not assume that trade union leaders work in a vacuum and call their members out on strike whenever they feel like it.

Photo of Mr Barry Porter Mr Barry Porter , Bebington and Ellesmere Port

The hon. Member has prayed in aid the fact that some unions volun- tarily conduct ballots in accordance with their rules. Yet the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) claims that if there are secret ballots they will cause all sorts of difficulties and troubles. He believes that they will set one part of the union against another. I cannot understand that. Is he saying that voluntary ballots in unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers are all right but if we try to give that right to members of other unions there is something wrong?

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , Newton

My hon. Friend said that it was up to the members in each union to work out the procedures which best suited their union. I should have thought that that was the normal and correct procedure to adopt.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in common with other organisations, the trade union movement set up its rule book in accordance with the wishes of its members? It has periodic opportunities to alter the rules if the members do not like them. In addition, ballots are written in to the rule books of the unions. If the members want a ballot, they have every opportunity to write it into their rules.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , Newton

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If time allowed, I would go through the procedures of my union and explain how the rules apply. However, it is only my intention to try to put across to the Conservatives the practicalities and realities of industrial life.

I urge Conservatives to recognise that men and women who work for their living do not want to go on strike. Circumstances invariably force them to take action for one reason or another and very often that reason is not wages. Employers have often unilaterally sought to impose change in conditions on workers and often the reaction is instantaneous. The workers down tools and walk out with the shop stewards begging them to come back and enter negotiations. Industrial relations are complex and involve millions of people.

I ask Tory Back Benchers to appreciate that the Secretary of State is wrestling with a Bill that is difficult and complex. The Opposition are completely opposed to it, but at least we appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with complex affairs. The sledgehammer contained in the new clause would sour industrial affairs and be a recipe for disaster, resulting in far more time being lost in strikes than was the case in the past. Even at this eleventh hour I beg Conservative Members to withdraw these dangerous clauses which they seek to force upon the Government and the trade unions. God help them if they do not.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I wish also to speak to new clause 5, which I have tabled. It must be fairly unusual to debate five new clauses and one amendment at the same time, but I readily accept that the reason why they have all been grouped together is that they are similar in principle.

Tonight we are debating a question of principle, not detail. In spite of what the press and Labour Members have said, I do not believe that this is a Tory Back-Bench revolt—or at least not yet. The variations in these new clauses show that there has been no concerted attempt to rebel, but a spontaneous feeling that the principle of secret ballots should be debated in more detail than hitherto and at the earliest opportunity. That opportunity is now.

I support the new clauses, but I admit that we do not expect to win the vote tonight. Perhaps we may not need to vote. I believe that we have performed a useful function in giving the House the opportunity to debate the question of statutory ballots for almost the first time—[Hon. Members: "That is not true."] With respect, the question has never been debated in the Standing Committee or on Second Reading. The Government said that there was no mandatory obligation to hold a ballot and that was the end of the argument.

It is surprising that this matter has not been debated because many of us feel that the question of the democratic voice of trade union members goes to the core of good industrial relations. Yet the Bill in its present form tends to ignore the rank and file in favour of trade union officialdom. There has been virtually no debate about ordinary trade union members having the right to ballots on matters that are of profound importance to their livelihoods.

I am not setting out the arguments in favour of statutory ballots. That is what went wrong with the railwaymen's vote in 1974. I am advocating not statutory ballots but the statutory right of workers to demand secret ballots. There is a fundamental difference, as anyone who understands industrial relations appreciates. That is why there is now total silence on the Opposition Benches.

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I am convinced that the broad strategy and the step-by-step approach to industrial relations legislation adopted by my right hon. Friend is right. My right hon. Friend is wise to proceed carefully and only after maximum consultation. It has been seen that this aproach is beginning to pay off. I cannot speak for my hon. Friends. My aim is to indicate to my right hon. Friend what might be his next step and to suggest that the issue of secret ballots is one on which the country, the trade unions and certainly the Conservative Party feel strongly.

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , Chippenham

My hon. Friend says that my right hon. Friend is right to proceed step by step and after full consultation. Does he not agree that if these proposals are carried there will not have been time for full consultation with outside interests on either side of industry? In a matter as complex and difficult as this one should not proceed without full consultation.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

My hon. Friend has a point. I do not believe that any of the new clauses will be carried, but we will have made a strong statement in principle. There may not be a vote. I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend may give an undertaking that will satisfy us. In that case, there will be no Division. I have had very little consultation with the Whips.

The purpose of these new clauses is to give rank and file trade union members the means whereby they may take the initiative in ensuring that their views are known on the subjects specified in clause 1 of the Bill, thereby making sure that when significant numbers of active trade unionists are in disagreement with the centrally expressed policy of a trade union on the subject specified they may have the right to ascertain the views of the entire membership on those issues. There is nothing in my new clause 5 that would impose the views expressed through the ballot on trade unions' decision-making bodies. The purpose of such ballots should be consultative. They would not conflict with the unions' present constitutional arrangements.

There is a fundamental flaw in the other new clauses that we are debating. They would impose a legal obligation on the trade unions concerned to implement the decision of the ballot. That is a mistake. It then becomes necessary to consider penalties if a union refuses to obey, with all that this means by way of court action and the prolonging of industrial disputes. That is the one thing we want to avoid.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

Can the hon. Gentleman quote one example of any union which has held a national ballot on any issue when the national executive of that union has not carried through the decision of its members?

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

I have a feeling that the NUJ is one example. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. The whole point is that, under the proposal contained in my clause, essentially a consultative process, if the result is in favour of a certain course of action, the trade union leadership will be under a strong moral obligation—not a statutory obligation—to carry out the process. What happens if they refuse to have the ballot? I am giving the right to ordinary working people to say to the bosses of the unions "Look mate, we don't agree. We want a ballot. We don't think you have got matters right. We think our commonsense approach is better". That is what I am advocating. If Opposition Members will listen more to what I have to say, they will find that my remarks make a lot of sense.

No Government, employer or any other outside agency should dictate to a union that it must hold a secret ballot. Under the clauses, with the exception of new clause 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), the workers within the union—the ordinary rank and file—will trigger the process, thereby exercising their democratic right to have a say in matters that are crucially important to them and their families. Balloting arrangements such as I have suggested are not an imposition on trade unions. They will help prevent the im- of unwanted policies. They are less a legal obligation and more a conferral of rights.

The 1968 Donovan report, often quoted in debates on industrial matters, put forward three major practical objections to compulsory strike ballots. The first was that they could not be enforced in the case of small-scale, unofficial stoppages. The second, mentioned by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), was that experience in the United States showed that such ballots usually resulted in a vote in favour of a strike. The third was that ballots might delay and restrict union leaders' ability to agree a settlement during collective bargaining.

My new clause 5 attempts to overcome these problems in two ways. First, ballots would not be mandatory for every strike. They would be mandatory only if a sufficient number of workers felt strongly enough to demand a ballot. Secondly, the results of the ballots would not be compulsory in the legal sense. They would provide an indication of the level of support for a proposed settlement and so enable a union leader to know whether a bargain could be made to stick. It gives him information and power.

I should perhaps add that, in the United States, collective bargaining is a darned sight tougher than in this country. There are more legal restrictions on strike action. It is hardly surprising that ballots in the United States normally come out in favour of strikes. The situation is so dissimilar to that in the United Kingdom that we should not be too hidebound by it.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

The hon. Gentleman now talks of ballots that are not binding. He spoke of the NUJ, of which I happen to be a member, as an example of a union that, in his view and in his recollection, had not observed the result of a ballot. At that time, from a sedentary position, I shouted "No". What he says is absolutely wrong. Is he aware that the NUJ is one union that writes ballots into its rules and that its ballots are binding on the national executive? There can be no question ever in that union of the executive not carrying out the result of a ballot.

Will the hon. Gentleman do his homework before coming to the Chamber and trotting out things he has somewhere in his mind that are usually wrong? Would it not be helpful if Conservative Members knew what they were talking about before uttering such nonsense?

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

I bow to the knowledge of the hon. Gentleman as a member of the NUJ, the union in question. I am not certain that the hon. Gentleman has got the matter right. I thought that the NUJ blew hot and cold and never made up its mind whether to obey the instructions of a ballot. I stand to be corrected. The hon. Gentleman's was an interesting and lengthy intervention.

My new clause is based largely on the rights that shareholders enjoy under the Companies Act 1948. This analogy with the Companies Act was first suggested by the Institute of Directors. Its argument is that shareholders have the right to requisition general meetings and the circulation of resolutions and so have a direct impact on decisions that will affect the use made of their investments.

Statutory balloting arrangements would surely give trade union members the same right to have an impact on decisions of their trade unions and, in turn, have an effect on the investment that each worker makes of his time and labour.

Surely it is not for me to demonstrate that trade union members should be granted that obvious right. The case proves itself. It is for the Secretary of State to convince the House that ordinary rank and file trade unionists should be denied the rights which shareholders enjoy under the Companies Act 1948. The ball is in the Secretary of State's court.

On many occasions the Government have said that they are determined to get the complex industrial relations law right. They have proposed their step-by-step approach. I agree with their aims, just as I agree with almost everything in the Bill. I welcome the way in which the Secretary of State has fought his corner on industrial relations and the way in which he has bent over backwards to ensure full and detailed consultation. Even while his Bill is before Parliament he is prepared to introduce and consider new ideas in working paper form for further consideration. That is all that we ask.

If the Secretary of State accepts the principle that the worker should have the right to demand a secret ballot, we might not have to vote this evening. The vote is immaterial but it is important that the principle is accepted. If it is, that will be a major step towards giving ordinary working people a real say in their future and the opportunity to demonstrate that, when their voice is heard, common sense usually prevails.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

I am reluctant to intervene in the debate for any length of time because I do not wish to prolong the most nonsensical and least important debate that we shall have on the Bill. However, I derive some wry amusement from seeing such a large collection of Tory hawks. I am reluctant to intervene in a family row. Tory Members exhibit animus and hostility whenever trade unions are discussed. They have demonstrated their naivety about the industrial world. The further away hon. Members' lives have been from industry the more likely they are to vote for new clause 3. Government Members show a complete lack of knowledge of industry. They believe their own simplistic propaganda. They live in a fantasy world where the vast majority of trade union members are "moderates" and trade union general secretaries are "militants" who spend their time rampaging round the country and calling strikes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government Members seem to believe that with secret ballots the goodies will always win and the baddies always lose.

We are not against ballots. The trade union movement lives by ballots. It is our way of life. We need no lectures about ballots. I am pleased that Government Members are in favour of them. Perhaps we could extend ballots to the place down the Corridor. Perhaps Tory members will join us in seeking to abolish that place.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

My hon. Friend contemplates extending ballots. Does he recognise that the most harmful and damaging decisions for workers are taken by employers? Perhaps we should consider balloting workers about employers' decisions.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

In my industry The Times locked out its workers for a year and there was no question of a ballot. What about a ballot for the Prime Minister? Perhaps there should be a secret postal ballot of all members of the Conservative Party to decide upon their leader. Soon the Post Office will have a new boss. Will there be a secret ballot of workers in the postal industry to decide who he or she should be? How did Michael Edwardes get his job? Was there a secret ballot? I am pleased to see that Conservative Members have been converted.

Hon. Members talked of shareholders being consulted about whether their money should go to the Conservative Party. We were told that they can commission a meeting, but not a secret ballot. Conservative Members argue in favour of secret ballots but shareholders cannot ballot about whether their money should go to the Conservative Party. I was amused that the CBI voted this year in favour of secret ballots—and they did that on a show of hands.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West 5:15 pm, 22nd April 1980

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my union, ASTMS, took a decision by secret ballot at one of its branch meetings to send some money to the Conservative Party? Opposition Members are worried because under a secret ballot their party might not receive the funds that they do today.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

The hon. Gentleman has made my point. In the trade union movement we decide whether we want to send our political levy to the Labour Party, whereas company money is voted by the directors.

Most of the unions use ballots. In my union members ballot on industrial action before it takes place. In Committee we sought to extend balloting. We argued that ballots should not only be for employees of trade unions but for shop stewards. We said that in addition to pillar box democracy, or postal ballots, other ballots were equally valid and genuine. For example, the general election does not involve a postal ballot. The National Union of Mineworkers conducts pit-head ballots. My union uses ballot boxes. Members are given their ballot papers by scrutineers. The ballot boxes are taken to head office and scrutineers, elected by secret ballot, count the votes. In Committee we wanted to bring such forms of election into the ambit of the Bill.

We did not divide on clause 1. We did not vote against ballots. However, we argued that ballots should be voluntary, not compulsory. We said that it was wrong for the State to tell voluntary bodies how they should run their affairs and what constitutions they should have.

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lonsdale

The hon. Gentleman made a comment about the contributions to political parties by companies. Is he aware that if 5 per cent. of the shareholders of a company desire they can, under the law, call for a special general meeting and resolve by a simple majority what they so desire? That is precisely the procedure which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) proposes should be applied to trade unions.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not grasp the argument. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) is not in favour of a meeting and a democratic show of hands, but a secret ballot. He does not want the procedure to be the same as it is at shareholders' meetings. Perhaps the penny has dropped. Conservative Members are so naive that they do not understand. They should listen to Members with industrial experience and we shall explain as we go along.

Several Hon Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

If I may be allowed another couple of sentences I shall give way later.

In Committee we asked for an extension of balloting, provided that it was done on a voluntary basis. We were unequivocally and categorically assured by the Under-Secretary that: There is nothing in the clause, however subsection (3) could be amended, which could empower the Government to require mandatory ballots. That is absolutely clear. The Secretary of State then said: I should like to make it absolutely clear that there is no provision within the clause for mandatory power for ballots. I want to make it abundantly clear that that is not the purpose of this clause."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 29 January 1980; c. 95–100.] It was on that understanding that we wanted an extension of the provisions and we did not divide the Committee.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I recall that we spent 10 hours in Committee debating the clause which deals specifically with ballots. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), who opened the debate today, was a member of that Committee. He uttered not a single syllable, during the whole proceedings about ballots. He could have debated in Committee the clause that he has placed before the House today.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

It could well be that the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), like some other hon. Members, being so unused to industrial affairs did not understand what we were talking about. The penny dropped only after we had completed our thirtieth session or our hundredth hour. Perhaps he was prevailed upon by some of his colleagues.

British trade unions—I emphasise the word "British" because we invented them—will never succumb to compulsion.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

You did not invent them.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

It will never be possible to coerce British trade unions to alter their constitutions by law. I point out to Conservative Members that the ballots they desire could never be a panacea. They are not a magic wand which will solve our industrial problems.

Let me give an example from our experience of recent months. The miners voted to accept the offer of 20 per cent. made to them. That is why there was no dispute in the mining industry. The steel workers were offered nothing. Is it any wonder that there was a dispute? That dispute was nothing to do with ballots. It happened because one group of workers were provoked and set up. The steel strike was deliberately engineered by the offer of nothing to the steel workers.

If hon. Members believe that the goodies will always win as a result of secret ballots let them look at the example of the miners yet again. The miners have a great propensity for electing militants by ballot. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will back me up when I say that. The miners have quite often voted for Communists.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

With polls of over 70 per cent. they voted in Arthur Horner and Will Paynter. That great ogre Arthur Scargill—on a transferable vote—secured over 70 per cent. of that vote in Yorkshire. The idea that secret ballots will automatically ensure that the goodies win and the baddies lose is nonsense.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) gives the wrong impression about the organisation and composition of the National Union of Mineworkers—which might be what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover might like to happen—I must say that the NUM represents many opinions, both political and industrial. The membership of the union is evenly balanced. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends who belong to the union, as I do, can give a more accurate picture than the one being painted by my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

In Committee the Under-Secretary wisely said that industrial relations were "delicate and difficult". In those circumstances, flexibility is of the utmost importance. Once ballot papers have been issued the whole procedure is frozen. It takes days for ballot papers to go out and if there is a vote in favour of a dispute it subsequently takes a long time to call it off. The whole procedure becomes immobile.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

The issue cannot then be settled by negotiation. Most strikes are unofficial and most of them are short. If, every time there is a dispute, we must trundle out this procedure of the secret ballot I believe that we shall encounter great difficulty.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

We would be in for longer strikes.

Because I have given way so often I shall cut out some of what I wished to say. But I mention two things. Firstly, in the ill-fated 1971 Act there was provision for compulsory ballots and one such ballot took place among the railway workers. Hon. Members in this House know exactly what happened on that occasion.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

After listening to the rather long and tortuous speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) I have yet to hear whether he is in favour of shop floor workers being consulted about the possibility of a trade dispute.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

The answer is that in my industrial experience—and in my union—that has always been done.

I end by quoting from the Donovan report. The experts looked into this matter and they said of compulsory strike ballots: This proposal is based on the belief that workers are likely to be less militant than their leaders and that, given the opportunity of such a ballot, they would often be likely to vote against strike action … A law forbidding strike action before the holding of a secret ballot could not be enforced in the case of small-scale unofficial stoppages, which make up the overwhelming majority of the total number of strikes. … There are other objections to such ballots. Once a vote has been taken and has gone in favour of strike action, the resulting stoppage may delay a settlement by restricting union leaders' freedom of action. The Donovan Commission also reported that experience in Canada and America showed that the holding of such ballots led to more and not fewer strikes. It stated: We think it preferable that trade union leaders should bear and be seen to bear, the responsibility of deciding when to call a strike and when to call it off. They are elected, they have a job to do and they should get on with it.

It is the same with the Government. When they doubled VAT they did not have a secret ballot, nor do they keep running to the voters to hold permanent, regular referendums in relation to their other policies. It is a big mistake to expect trade unions to do that on every occasion.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Nantwich

I have listened with interest to the points raised on both sides of the House. It appears to me that the arguments on one side have been well thought out and the arguments on the other side have been extremely badly thought out and have entirely missed the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] The cries of "Hear, hear" from Opposition Members still miss the point because it is Opposition arguments I speak of when I say that some arguments were badly conceived.

The core of what we are discussing is not the right to strike. The right to strike is not under threat. The right to strike is enshrined in the belief of every hon. Member. As the law stands, what is under threat is the right to work. Those of us who tabled the new clause are concerned with the right of union members to work.

Those who wish to work can be brought out on strike by their union leaders, against their wishes, even though they are in a majority. That is the key to this debate. It is absolutely wrong that someone should be led into a strike when he does not wish to strike by someone who claims to represent the union which is ignoring the wishes of the majority of its members.

The right to work is far more important than any trade union leadership dispute about whether a strike should be called. The right to work is fundamental to the freedoms of our society. That is the key to this debate.

5.30 pm

The weakness of the legislation proposed by the Secretary of State—legislation which is in general supported by all my right hon. and hon. Friends—is that, if we continue with a voluntary ballot and there is no compulsion for a ballot to be held, those trade union leaders who act responsibly and genuinely represent the membership of their unions will hold ballots, as they do now. Therefore, we shall have achieved nothing. But there are trade union leaders who wish to bring out their membership, knowing or suspecting that the membership does not wish to come out on strike, often in the interests not of their membership, but of political dispute, in an attempt, as many of them have said, to bring down a particular Government. That is the kind of irresponsible trade union action that a compulsory ballot would prevent if our proposals were adopted.

I do not believe that Labour Members would dispute that proposition. When they were in Government, they were as keen about the political motivation of disputes as we are. Many Opposition Members, particularly on the Front Bench, have frequently said, even when the action taken is against a Conservative Government, that that is not proper and responsible leadership of the trade union movement. None the less, it happens. It is that that we wish to prevent. We do not want people in those circumstances particularly or in any circumstances in general to be brought out on strike when they do not wish to be brought out. That is the key to this argument.

The advantages of having a compulsory ballot are clear. There have been many examples in the past 12 months of ballots having been used to demonstrate the wishes of trade union members in which, by following the results of those ballots, the trade union leadership has properly represented those whom it leads. But there are other examples where ballots have been taken and ignored or have not been taken at all, in which the leadership has gone ahead with its wishes irrespective of the true desires of those whom it claims to represent.

It occurs to me that, unless there is a compulsory ballot, no great advance will have been made. I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of the points that have been made in general by my hon. Friends the Members for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and Dartford (Mr. Dunn) who have forcefully and ably argued the case for compulsory ballots to be brought into this legislation.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

We have endured a Conservative manifesto, often referred to. Its main terms and purport I understood to be the promise of less legislation and compulsion from Westminster and more freedom for people to express their own views and to carry out their own affairs in their own way. These proposals are exactly the opposite. They are, of course, designed only to affect the trade union movement, which presumably is excepted from the general Conservative rule that people are entitled to regulate their own affairs.

In my view, as a lawyer, it is a great mistake to introduce too many laws to affect industrial relations because they do not work. Indeed, they cannot work. They are not and cannot properly be designed to enable people to regulate their own affairs on the shop floor. If we try to interfere too much from here, we almost invariably achieve exactly the opposite result to that intended.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Wandsworth Putney

The hon. and learned Gentleman voted for two Bills, each running to over 100 clauses. Would he care to reflect on his observa- tions about the usefulness of the law having some relevance to the two Acts introduced by the Labour Government?

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Certainly. The first of those Acts, in 1971, was designed to get rid of the Industrial Relations Act and to strengthen the unfair dismissal rules which are being weakened again by a Conservative Government.

The second Act was designed to give trade unions the freedom to carry on their own affairs, to have disclosure of information in the course of collective bargaining—which the Conservative Government introduced in 1971 but never implemented—to be consulted about redundancies, alone among worker organisations to have the right to be consulted about health and safety, and not to be prosecuted or persecuted for carrying out their duties and functions. That freedom is now being restricted by this legislation. There is only one object in this legislation—to prevent trade unions from carrying out their functions freely and from regulating their own affairs.

I submit that it is for the trade unions to decide whether a secret ballot is appropriate in a particular case. The miners, the AUEW and the electricians have secret ballots because they have decided to have them. We do not have secret ballots in this House. No one has ever suggested that we should.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

The hon. Gentleman talks about "Our union". We represent people who are entitled to know how we voted. We are not ashamed of what we do. We are standing up and saying "This is what we believe", and our constituents are entitled to know the way that we voted. There is much in favour of secret ballots on appropriate occasions.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Nantwich

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there are instances of trade union coercion and there are many instances in which people who stand up and act against their trade union leadership's advice are in danger of having reprisals taken against them?

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

There are cases of coercion throughout. There is coercion in this House. If Conservative Members know what happened during the immigration debate, they will know why their incipient revolution collapsed. There is coercion by managers. Look at what is happening in British Leyland. There is coercion everywhere. But what there is not is the lack of courage of individual trade unionists. We have recently witnessed people saying to their shop stewards "You have recommended us to strike. We do not agree with you." There has been no fear. There has been a whole series of decisions, much applauded by Conservative Members, where people have said "We do not agree with our shop stewards. We are not going to do what they say." There is no fear. It is for them to decide how to regulate their affairs.

There are occasions when secret ballots are worthwhile. There are others when people should be able to say "This is my view. I shall express my view and my comrades, my colleagues or my constituents are entitled to know what that view is." It is for the individual organisation to decide.

The ultimate question for decision by the House is: are trade unions to be forced into holding ballots in situations which will often make matters worse? The hon. Member for Bristol, Northwest (Mr. Colvin) referred to the railwaymen's dispute. He said "It went wrong". We know what he meant when he said that. He meant that there was a vote in favour of a strike. For Conservative Members a ballot goes wrong if the workers decide to exercise their right to withdraw their labour. They say "We are all in favour of the right to strike", but when anyone exercises that right there is always an outcry. Workers are entitled to exercise the right to strike and they are entitled to decide when they will and when they will not exercise that right.

Interference from this place does not create fewer or shorter strikes. It creates more tand longer strikes. That is what happened between 1971 and 1974. That is why there was such a series of unhappy and disruptive strikes. That is why, alas, we are having the industrial relations atmosphere poisoned again. That is why the Opposition are begging the Government to withdraw this legislation. We see exactly the same happening again by the actions of those who learn nothing from their mistakes, except how to repeat them rather more gently and leisurely in a series of Acts rather than in one, and with a certain amount of dissent amongst themselves because they are not going fast enough.

The new clauses are being introduced by Government Back Benchers because they do not believe that the Government are going far or fast enough. Labour Members believe that the Government are going too far and too fast in a direction in which they should not be going at all. It is wrong to legislate in such a way as to trammel trade unions in the proper carrying out of their duties and affairs as we insist upon doing. It is wrong to compare them with the shareholders in a company. Trade unions have no share in the profits of companies. Anyway, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West was wrong in his law. The Companies Act does not require secret ballots even when companies are about to ruin themselves in almost any conditions. The oppression of minorities is a limited concept in law.

Conservative Members are wrong to refer to the position in the United States, where I spent a year studying the matter. Secret ballots do not prevent strikes there. The United States has rather fewer strikes, but they tend to last longer. Secret ballots in the United States do not mean fewer unofficial strikes. Indeed, there are more; and we shall find that we have more unofficial strikes. If the workers do not like a certain position, they may say "I shall not work under these conditions. I shall walk out ". What does one do in such circumstances? Will the workers be arrested? That is a risk that we face. These are not criminal provisions, but they could lead to ordinary people achieving the crown of martyrdom. They may say "We are not interested in your laws". That could lead to precisely the breakdown of the rule of law which we on this side of the House seek to uphold.

These are bad clauses which it is proposed to add to a bad Bill in a way that will not work. In these circumstances, we not only ask the proposers of the clauses not to press them but we ask the Government to think again before introducing legislation of which these clauses are intended to form part.

Photo of Mr Mark Wolfson Mr Mark Wolfson , Sevenoaks

I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow the detailed, immensely knowledgeable, and well balanced speech of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). However, I part company with him in his condemnation of the Bill. I wish to speak against the amendments. I say to my colleagues, and to Opposition Members, that that is not the pattern that I followed in Committee. Having suffered the frustrations of a Back Bencher in Committee, I am relieved to have the opportunity of saying something further at this stage.

It is not the time to make a fundamental change in the Bill. The fact that the amendments were not aired in Committee makes it unsatisfactory that such a change should be made now. The opportunity existed in Committee for these points to be discussed. Many hours were spent on the relevant clauses. Whatever the constraints that exist in Committee—and all hon. Members who sit on the Government Benches know them—the amendments should have been started at that stage, when adequate discussion, especially with outside organisations, could have taken place.

Another reason why I oppose the new clause is that the Bill is a piece of enabling legislation. It allows trade unions to make more use of secret ballots—if they believe that to be right and proper—within their organisations. I shall look to trade unions and to trade union leaders—and the country will look to them also—to utilise secret ballots more often if their members clearly wish that to happen. The evidence shows—and here I am in agreement with those who support the new clause—that there is a will and a wish among trade unionists for secret ballots to take place on more occasions than has happened in the past.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. If anything was being done about the closed shop these clauses would be unnecessary. They provide a means by which trade unionists may express their disagreement with the way in which the union, into which they are locked, is being run.

Photo of Mr Mark Wolfson Mr Mark Wolfson , Sevenoaks 5:45 pm, 22nd April 1980

My hon. Friend may have a point, which I shall not dispute. Certainly the power of a closed shop is strong. Ultimately, I should wish to see it less strong. The steps being taken in the Bill are helpful in that they move in the right direction. The Bill leaves a great responsibility on trade union leaders to respond to the wishes of their members. I accept that they would be sensitive to those wishes.

Surely a fundamental of the Government's policy at this time—and a fundamental for what Opposition Members would wish to see in Britain in the future, whatever the difference of approach—is that ultimately this country should achieve greater productivity, and that we should be more effective. Unless that happens the economic policies of neither Government—be it this Government, the previous Labour Government or any future Government—will have any relevance. I ask myself whether these new clauses in practice, and if introduced at this stage, would actually help or hinder the drive towards increased productivity? It is my view that they would not help.

There is a need for unions to pay more attention to the views of individual members. The present clause on secret ballots allows them to do that. I suggest that they would be well advised to respond, and to follow the provisions in the clause. I am in no way satisfied or encouraged by the action of the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress in condemning the value of the original clause. He is totally misguided to do so. I look for a change of attitude on that issue.

It is my hope that in the vote tonight, if it comes to that, Opposition Members will give due weight to the advantage of secret ballots to them, and to the trade unions which they so strongly support. I hope that they will reflect the view that has come from the Opposition Front Bench today that secret ballots do have a value, and that unions already use them, and will give credence and credibility to the fact that the Government's current proposals, as they stand in the Bill, will provide greater opportunity for secret ballots to take place if trade unions so wish.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

I have held the opinion for some years that one of the basic matters wrong in British politics is that we tend to judge ideas on the basis of the source from which they eminate, rather than on the basis of the idea itself. I shall not support all the new clauses. I shall not support those that compel a union to hold a secret ballot against the wishes of its members. However, new clause 3 does not seek to do that.

I find myself in strange company when supporting the new clause. But, quite frankly, I do not believe that the new clause is any the worse for that. The fact that strange company moves a clause is not a reason why I should, or should not, support it. I should judge the clause on its merits, and that is what I tried to do in Committee.

I have always been especially concerned about the rights of individuals arising from Government proposals. The new clause has some respect for the individual who is within a trade union, or who is involved in an industrial dispute. That is why I shall support new clause 3. I accept that the clause could have been moved in Committee, and that that is a good debating point. However, that in no way weakens the value of the new clause. As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, there are often good reasons for not moving amendments in Committee. It may be that an hon. Member, when moving an amendment in Committee, knows that "You ain't going to get no support, even from your own side ".

I listened with great interest to Conservative Members who have talked about a weakening of the closed shop. It may interest them to know that I tabled an amendment to make the closed shop illegal, and that only one Conservative Member had the courage to vote for it. There were many speeches in support of the amendment, but only one Conservative Member voted for it. That was the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst).

All I am saying is that the fact that the new clause was not moved in Committee is no reason for saying that it is wrong. Therefore, we should first have a look at what the new clause suggests. If it suggested that a union shall hold a secret ballot of its members full stop, I would not be in favour of it. That it why I shall vote against new clause 2. But new clause 3 does not say that. It says that if a good proportion of the members—not the Government or the Secretary of State—want a ballot, a ballot shall be held. It is the members of the union who will be able to force such a ballot.

One can argue that 15 per cent, or 500 is not sufficiently high. I would not necessarily agree. Apparently that figure has been suggested because of some company law or other. However, I believe that the rights of minorities should be protected in law. That is the function of the House of Commons to protect the rights of minorities as well as to uphold the rule of the majority. Trade union minorities, like minorities in many other movements, do not always have a lot of rights. All that the new clause says is that if 500 members—not an entirely insignificant number—or 15 per cent., whichever is the lesser number, say "We want a ballot", there shall be one. I cannot understand what the objection can be to that type of law. Such a law seeks to enhance the rights of trade union members, not to reduce them.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I should like to raise a purely practical point. How will it be made known how many members have written to their national office asking for and requisitioning a ballot? Who will check on the mechanics of the matter? Who will check, discover and publish whether or not 15 per cent. of the membership has written to ask for such a ballot?

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

The new clause makes clear what it is 15 per cent of. Therefore, there can be no argument about what constitutes 15 per cent. The new clause makes that quite clear. The only issue is whether those who requisition a ballot fall within the terms of the new clause. I am prepared to accept the word of the executive committee of a union as to whether the people requesting a ballot are members of a union and fall within the scope of the new clause. I would accept as being hon. ourable the word of the national executive of a union which said "We are sorry, but this does not constitute 15 per cent. There are signatures of some who are not members of the union". If someone seeks to challenge that, let him do so, but for my part I would certainly accept the decision of the national executive committee of a union in that respect.

We have heard phrases such as "hawks" and "wets". I must make it clear that I am not a Government hawk, and I am certainly not a critic of the Secretary of State. On the contrary, I am a strong supporter of the Secretary of State and the manner in which he is dealing with industrial relations in the Bill. I happen to believe that the new clause will strengthen his hand rather than weaken it. Frankly, what matters to me is not that it strengthens his hand, but rather that it strengthens the hands of union members and their right to say what their union shall do and when it shall do it. That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable.

I have heard some hon. Members argue that decisions go wrong. By that I assume they mean that sometimes when a ballot is held, a strike will result. That does not worry me in the slightest. If it is the wish of the union members that there shall be a strike, and if that wish has been expressed through the ballot box, it is proper that the union should call a strike. I am not concerned about what the result of the ballot is. I am concerned about the right to hold a ballot, and I am concerned that that right should be available to members of a union themselves to decide. If a sufficient number of the members of a union require that a ballot should be held, in my view it is not improper that this House should protect their rights by inserting a clause of this kind into the Bill.

It is for those reasons that I shall support new clause 3, but not new clause 2. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do the same.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

I am grateful for this chance to say a few words in support of the broad approach which is being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I have long thought that his attitude to this delicate area of trade union legislation was the better course of valour and the wisest path to follow. I understand the reasons which led many of my hon. Friends to table the new clauses and to argue their case so forcefully. However, I remind them and the House that the principal aim of the Bill is to encourage more responsible trade union behaviour at all levels as well as to limit the potential for abuse of the law by trade unions.

As it is at present drafted, I believe that the Bill will put the onus upon any unrepresentative trade union leaders to say why they oppose the use of public funds to finance secret ballots. That is a more effective and interesting way of en- couraging the use of secret ballots and of encouraging them to grow slowly but surely. If we were to follow the line suggested by so many of my hon. Friends, I believe that it would undermine the vital voluntary element in the Government's approach towards legislation in this area, thereby reducing the chance of making that legislation last. Unless we can make legislation last in this crucial area, all sorts of other things in the economy cannot and will not go right.

Furthermore, we must consider whether interference of the kind suggested by my hon. Friends in the new clauses would lead many trade union leaders to argue with some plausibility that a Government were seeking by means of legislation to interfere directly and unnecessarily in internal trade union affairs and practices. That is something on which the Industrial Relations Act 1971 largely came to grief, and I do not wish to see that mistake repeated.

There is no doubt that the new clauses in respect of mandatory ballots could increase unofficial action. That is also a serious point. I am sure that all my hon. Friends know that unofficial action is the main bugbear in industrial relations in this country. About 95 per cent. of all strikes and stoppages are unofficial in some way or other, and they tend to be predominantly of short duration. The proposed sanction in new clause 3(5) would withdraw immunity from those taking official action, thereby perhaps unwittingly encouraging unofficial action.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. When opening the debate, I said that new clause 3 should be read in conjunction with new clause 6. It is proposed that they will deal with unofficial action with the same sanction of lifting immunities under section 13.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving clarification on that point. However, with great respect, I should like to seek legal advice as to whether the other new clause, as it is at present drafted, would have that effect.

There is also the danger of validating the action of unofficial militants who take industrial action. There is always the tendency—I am sure that many of my hon. Friends recognise this—for trade union leaders to find out which way their rank and file are running and then to lead them in that direction. There is a real danger that these new clauses will exacerbate that tendency. But, more important, tactically, they would prejudge and undermine the detailed consultations and preparations that are now being carried out in advance of the Government's Green Paper on trade union immunities—an area of law which must be studied carefully and at length and with full consultation. If immunity was withdrawn from all unofficial action, or even some categories of it, we would run the risk of prejudging that important Green Paper.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right on this occasion—as on most other occasions—to proceed cautiously, stage by stage. The slogan "Trust the People" may have a familiar ring to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but it should also include trade union members.

6 pm

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The comments of the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) introduced some common sense and courage which has been singularly lacking in the speeches of hon. Members—excluding that of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson). His words must have been music to the ears of the Secretary of State who has maintained a most impassive expression throughout the proceedings. He has given no sign of his thoughts on any speech.

I wish to take the precaution of declaring a possible interest in the debate. I am a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, and I am sponsored in the House by that union. If either the amendments or the Bill are passed, it may be of financial advantage to my union, so I take this precaution of declaring an interest.

I wish to make three points—one to show that I am still an optimist. Whether I can persuade the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and his colleagues that what they want is what I want, is not the argument. If they want every union member to have a voice and a vote in the major decisions taken by his or her union in matters that affect their working life, place of work, wages and conditions of employment, I share that aim. I think that the whole House would share that aim and intention.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) seemed to miss one point. How can anyone know that 15 per cent. of union members have written to union headquarters, on presumably the prescribed form? How can they know where they will be printed and displayed and made available? Who will check whether they arrive? Without police activity and an outside body—presumably the Department of Employment—that cannot be done. Who will say when that can be implemented? The mechanics have not been followed through.

Conservative Members above the Gangway—those hardy sons of toil, three of whom are awake, and those below the Gangway, one of whom is contemplating deeply—were elected on a manifesto based on three main points. I ask any Conservative Member to tell me whether I am wrong. They were elected on a commitment to less taxation, less Government expenditure and less Government interference. In broad terms, that was the Conservative Party's commitment to the country.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

There was, of course, a fourth commitment that the hon. Gentleman omitted to mention—the correction of the abuses of trade unionists.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

Perhaps at some stage the hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise the dilemma between that fourth commitment and two of the others. The Government cannot have it both ways. They are saying that they will reduce public expenditure, but this Bill will increase public expenditure. Is it not the purpose of the Bill to provide funds to enable union members to take actions that they are capable of doing without such funds? Is that not an increase in Government expenditure? Is it not Government intervention? Of course it is.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice , Chester-le-Street

Far be it from me to defend the official line in this debate, but, as I remember the Tory Party manifesto, it did not include anything on the lines of this clause.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I read part of the Tory Party manifesto. It is not widely circulated in West Derby—nor is The Times and other such publications. However, the Tory Party is committed to less Government intervention and less Government expenditure.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice). Will the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) confirm that the Bill, as originally drafted, was almost precisely as it was outlined in the Conservative Party manifesto?

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

It was not as detailed in the manifesto, and this clause was not included.

As I said, all Conservative Members are committed to less Government expenditure and less Government intervention. But there is a contradiction and a dilemma. I may not persuade Conservative Members to withdraw their amendments, but they should recognise the dilemma in what they are trying to do. Trade union members already have a voice and a vote in the conduct of the affairs of unions. I have that right in my union. Individual trade union members should take a little time and trouble, and not expect someone else to make it easy for them to exercise what some people call their democratic rights. The policies of my union and other unions are decided by those people who take the time and trouble to attend meetings—not just once a year when things get rough, but regularly. The structure for that is there. Once a year the members of my union have the opportunity of changing the rules—a process that is pursued at branch levels, local meetings, and so on.

The Bill and these amendments try to do for other people what they are capable of doing for themselves, if they take a little time and trouble. The National Union of Mineworkers does not want the taxpayer to subsidise it in any way. It pays for its own ballots. Perhaps it is easier in that union than in other unions. But for many years the NUM has done by itself what Conservative Members say can only be done by legislation.

This House is the worst place in the world to decide industrial relations legislation, as events over the last 15 years have shown. But, even if the aims of Conservative Members can be achieved in this way, they are not going about it in the right way. It is misleading to think that, by approving an amendment, the Government can do for other people what they are capable of doing themselves. The only solution to the way in which union policies are decided is for more people to take the trouble to take part in decision-making.

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). Until the hon. Gentleman spoke I was getting the feeling that comes over me frequently when we discuss these matters—namely, one of amazement. It is apparently assumed by many Labour Members that they have some exclusive knowledge of how trade unions work.

Like the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), I joined a trade union after the first few weeks of my working life. I was not in a closed shop—I did not have to join the union—but subsequently I worked in one. No one asked me to join. I was a volunteer. I went out of my way to join my union and have been a member of it ever since. My membership includes serving on a branch committee.

It is a rare and pleasant privilege to be able to welcome a speech made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I thing that the hon. Gentleman cogently presented the motives that inspired the new clause. He effectively disposed of any accusation that the clause is the product of hard-line Right-wing hawks within the Tory Party.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on the way in which he moved the Second Reading of the clause. The hon. Member for Rochdale spoke for the Liberal Party, and I do not think that there is any doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester spoke for the Conservative Party throughout the country. An early-day motion that he drew up and tabled a few weeks ago echoing the terms of the clause was signed by more than 100 Conservative Members. That must be a fair measure of opinion in the party throughout the country.

My hon. Friend was also speaking for Conservative trade unionists. As we have heard, at three successive meetings the National Council of Conservative Trade Unionists has called for rank-and-file union members to be given a mandatory right to demand secret ballots. When the proposition was put to the CTU national conference in Nottingham it was endorsed by 500 votes to 3. My hon. Friend was speaking for the mass of union members—there are many of them—who pinned their hopes on the Conservative Party at the general election.

We know that there are Ministers who wish all power to our elbows. There are PPSs who would dearly love to support CTU policy. If we are driven to a vote on the clause, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary knows that for every one Conservative Member in the Aye Lobby there will be at least two outside wishing that they were passing though it.

I have a great respect for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I know that he cannot be happy with the prospect of voting tonight with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and his chums against the hopes of so many of his own trade unionist supporters.

The hon. Member for Rochdale dealt well with the red herring of compulsory ballots. We are not talking about compulsory ballots such as the one ordered for the railways by a Minister in 1974 under the Industrial Relations Act 1971. I agree with those who say that that would be a road to disaster.

We are not giving power to a Minister to demand a secret ballot. However, we are seeking to give rank-and-file trade union members the freedom to demand one. We are seeking to give a right not to Ministers but to the shop floor. We are not arguing the detail of any one scheme but the principle. We are seeking a trigger mechanism. I am sure that my right hon. Friend can find faults with the trigger mechanism proposed by my hon. Friend. I am equally sure that thought and consultation would easily produce another.

Why is it necessary to give rank-and-file union members this right? I am sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends—I do not doubt that it is within the experience of many Labour Members—have been contacted by members of a union as a strike has been threatened and asked "What can we do to get a ballot on this? How can we establish that this is the majority feeling of the workers involved?" I have had such approaches. I am sure that in the bitter winter of 15 months ago many of us had such approaches from lorry drivers and Health Service workers who did not like one little bit what they were being dragooned into doing under the sanction of the closed shop.

It is necessary to give rank-and-file union members this right because we have seen the abuse that is frequently exhibited at factory gate meetings. We have witnessed the degree of intimidation that can be applied at such meetings. Strikes of the most damaging sort have been called, and it has been questionable whether they have had the support of a majority of the union members involved.

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The steelmen employed by the British Steel Corporation have been cited. I accept that if there had been a ballot before that strike started it may have been found that a majority was in favour of strike action. Of course, if the Bill incorporates provisions of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend, it will be incumbent upon employers, when they see the prospect of a ballot by union members, to ensure that those members have something reasonable to vote upon.

Apart from the BSC strike, there was the related dispute in the private steel industry. I defy any Labour Member to show that if the workers in the private steel industry had been consulted by means of a secret ballot they would have voted to join the dispute. If a ballot had taken place, the clear answer would have been that they did not want to join the dispute.

Only recently 18,000 members of the Transport and General Workers Union have been called out at British Leyland without any proper democratic consultation or regard for what they really wanted to do. We are told that on 14 May transport workers, railway men, local council workers and many more are to lose a day's pay without ever having been properly consulted on whether they want to engage in such a futile and abortive demonstration. The orders have come from on high; and under the sanctions which we know exist under the closed shop they will in many instances be obeyed.

The Bill offers State funds for ballots. I hope and trust that some union leaders will take them up. Some leaders have set their faces against them, but they are out of touch with their rank and file. They are determined never to suffer the pain of hearing what their members actually think. They are truly the Bourbons of Congress House. Despite the Bill, their members will continue to be denied any real say in crucial union decisions. The sanctions of the closed shop will continue to secure their compliance. This is the scandal which we seek to put right.

When my right hon. Friend replies he will no doubt indicate that he has a great deal of sympathy for the demands that have come from trade union members in general, and especially from Conservative trade unionists. He may offer to include the proposal that is set out in the new clause in his promised consultative document. What is the status of that document? Is it to be followed by legislation. or is it not? The best guidance that we have had so far is that it might be. That is not good enough. Without a statement of a longer-term intention, such an offer would not add up to very much.

In all honesty I put a straight question to my right hon. Friend. I know that he will give a straight answer to it when he replies. Is he willing to put proposals into the consultative document to give workers a right to ballot with the intention of legislating after that consultation is complete? If his answer is "Yes", the objective of the sponsors of the clause will largely have been met.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I think that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) said some kind things about me in his opening remarks. I do not want to cause any waves. However, what is the point of open, honest, free, frank and wide-ranging discussions and consultation on possibilities, if what the hon. Gentleman is saying to the Secretary of State "Whatever the consultations that take place, you do what we are asking."?

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead

I am suggesting that the consultation should be on exactly the same basis as the consultation that my right hon. Friend offered before he introduced the Bill. That was an offer of consultation on the basis of a document. The Secretary of State listened to the representations that were made and in due course legislation was presented. I am simply asking that the consultation arising from the document that is promised later this year will be on that same basis, on the assumption that legislation is to follow it according to the views presented in that consultation process.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

I am interested in what my hon. Friend says about consultation. If the consultation reveals that large sections of industry, having carefully considered the new clause do not want legislation on the lines he envisages, presumably he will accept that and not require my right hon. Friend to legislate.

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead

It is already evident from the verdicts that have come up through the Conservative trade union movement and from what has been stated by many leaders of industry in the press over the last few days that there is a strong demand on the factory floor and elsewhere for legislation that covers this point of principle. The point of consultation would be to work out the most appropriate way in which that could be put into legislative form.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what advice has come from the CBI on this issue, and what practical objections the CBI has made to any proposal for compulsory ballots?

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead

The CBI has not yet had an opportunity to discuss this matter formally because it has not yet been put into a consultative document. That is what we look forward to.

The Conservative manifesto has been mentioned and tossed around. I know that there are limits to what can be understood by "manifesto", and I agree that not everyone reads the fine print. I will read one small part of the fine print: Every trade unionist should be free to record his decisions as every voter has done for a hundred years in parliamentary elections, without others watching and taking note. Every trade unionist should have this freedom, not just those whose national leaders consent to grant it to them. That is the policy on which we fought the last election. That is the policy endorsed by three successive meetings of the national council of Conservative trade unionists and carried almost unanimously at its national conference. That is the hope of thousands upon thousands of rank and file trade unionist members who voted for us in the last election, and that is the principle on which I shall judge how to use my vote tonight.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

We do not need to look further than the sponsors of the clause and some of the speeches made by Tory Members to account for the woeful state of industrial relations. If ever there was a set of political "bovver" boys it surely is the people who have subscribed to the clause and those who support it. When I was listening to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) I was reminded of the march in Lewisham on Sunday afternoon. I do not want to be unjust and equate Tory Members with the National Front, but political "bovver" boys is a fair expression to describe the people who are pursuing this type of argument. The Secretary of State—for whom I have the utmost respect on the issue of industrial relations—must from time to time feel a bit like the Duke of Wellington. I do not need to finish the quotation.

The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), who is not in his seat, was the first indecently to expose himself this afternoon as being completely against trade unions per se when he said that, had the Secretary of State made the closed shop illegal, he would not be supporting the clause tonight. He was the first to blow the gaff on the personal detestation of certain Tory Members for organised labour. They do not mind labour because they need labour; labour is a profitable commodity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) said. They do not mind labour except when labour is organised, and they like it even less when it is highly organised.

When the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst)—"Radio Grunwick"—intervened to quote the editor of The Times on this issue, he was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Has he forgotten for how many months that august pillar of the Establishment was not published, and why? The editor of The Times is the last man I would want to quote as an authority on good industrial relations—indeed on any sort of industrial relations.

I do not know Mr. Frodsham of the Engineering Employers' Federation. He might be a perfectly nice man. He could not be as nasty as some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon. He must be a fairly honourable individual to have reached the position of director-general of the Engineering Employers' Federation.

I sympathise with Clive Jenkins in having so many Tory members in his union. I know that some Tories have had experience in industry. I know also that when they talk about the shop floor they are talking about Debenhams or Fortnum and Mason and not about the factory floor. To be fair, some have had industrial experience, but I would not expect any of them to have had as much industrial experience as has Anthony Frodsham. He makes two extremely important points in his letter to The Times of 21 April. He refers to the letter of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) of 17 April and says that the amendment referred to in that letter: may in practice worsen rather than improve industrial relations. He goes on to say, It is surely utterly unwise for such a fundamental change to be introduced without effective consultation with the parties concerned. The Engineering Employers' Federation's initial investigations suggest that there are considerable dangers. I put it no higher than does the director-general of the Engineering Employers' Federation.

If secret ballots are forced on an unwilling trade union movement, there will be serious repercussions. Conservative Members seem to be obsessed with ballots.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the events that occurred during the engineering strike last year add credibility to Mr. Frodsham's letter to The Times?

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West 6:30 pm, 22nd April 1980

I do not want to engage in a slanging match. If the hon. Gentleman wants to slang the Engineering Employers' Federation, he may do so, but he must recognise that the federation is to the employers what the trade union joint committees are to employees.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

Mr. Frodsham wrote that letter from experience.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

Perhaps my right hon. Friend is suggesting that the hon. Member for Winchester has no such experience.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

Mr. Frodsham wrote his letter after having had experience of the engineering dispute last year and in the light of that.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for clarifying that point.

I joined my first trade union—what is now the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Trade Union—when I was a 16-year-old apprentice. At that time, the rule of the union was that apprentices had to be 18 years old before they could join the union. I wrote to the then general secretary, Mr. Kelly, saying that, if I was old enough to work, I was old enough to hold a union card. I was the first 16-year-old apprentice to be accepted in the union. The rule was subsequently altered, because the national executive committee saw the force of my argument.

From the age of 16 I was used to postal ballots in that union. When I went into management I joined the General and Municipal Workers Union. I am sponsored by that union and am secretary of the sponsored Members' group. I have been balloted by that union as well.

If a union freely decides to ballot its members, it is right and proper that it should pay for the privilege of holding the ballot. Perhaps I am the suspicious, introvert Northerner that I have been described as being more than once, but I bear in mind that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The fear of the trade union movement about accepting State money for the holding of ballots is that, once the provision becomes law, there is no knowing when the Act may be amended, particularly by the present Government. That is why I hope that we shall have nothing to do with such ballots.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) I have to declare an interest as a trade unionist. Indeed, I am the treasurer of my branch of the National Union of Journalists in the West of Scotland. Unfortunately, although I control the cash, I have not yet been able to persuade the union to sponsor me in the House, as it sponsors the hon. Member.

The case put against the new clause has been pretty weak. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) advanced what he regarded as the devastating argument that, if there is a ballot before a strike, there must be a ballot to get the men back. That is a load of rubbish, because there is no reason why, on the basis of a voluntary ballot, as opposed to a mandatory ballot, a return to work should not be carried out within the normal rules of a union.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

The theme of the argument of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was that it ought not to be possible, on the say-so of one man, to get people to stop work. Why is the hon. Gentleman saying that it should be possible, on the say-so of one man, to get people back to work, whether they want to return or not?

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

I am not saying anything of the sort. The Conservative Party does not believe that people should be forced to do anything in this category. As a trade unionist, the hon. Gentleman knows that if there is a demand for a secret ballot about whether a union should go on strike after an offer from the employers and the majority of members say that there should be a strike, there is nothing to stop the union, operating in the normal way, from negotiating with the employers thereafter and recommending a return to work on the basis of a revised offer.

Although these matters are complex, unless we go for mandatory ballots it is rubbish for the hon. Gentleman to say that if there is a ballot before a strike there must be one before the men can go back.

The second argument against the new clause is that there is no need for it because there has not been a great deal of coercion and because workers are not forced to go on strike against the wishes of the majority. I do not suggest that trade unions are more corrupt or guilty of more misunderstanding than the rest of society, but at mass meetings decisions are often taken by a minority, not simply because there is a minority seeking to impose its will but, because of the appalling problem of apathy.

As one who is taking part in trade union activities actively for the first time and has been attending meetings regularly, I find that apathy is caused, not by disinterest, but because trade union meetings are often long and tedious, take place at venues that are not convenient for the general membership and, because of the way that agendas are run, the meaty decisions are taken at about 10.30 p.m. when the last bus or train is about to leave.

There is a great problem of trade union decisions not being majority decisions and trade union leaderships not necessarily being representative. Something must be done. The hon. Member for West Derby said that the answer was for trade unionists to take a more active interest, but he must recognise that there is a general problem of apathy to which an answer must be found.

The third argument against the new clause is that things are going well, events at British Leyland show that there has been a great improvement, and that we should let well alone. It would be wrong to draw any general conclusions from British Leyland, which is hovering on the brink of collapse and has appeared to be on the verge of bankruptcy from time to time.

I cannot see that any case has been made against the principle of the new clause. On the other hand, I must say to all those who, like myself, support the principle, that we should not make the mistake of thinking that it will be easy to resolve the problem. Since my return to the House, I have found many hon. Members supporting principles. For example, almost everyone supports the principle of a complete restructuring of the common agricultural policy. That is easy to say, but when one discusses the means of doing it, the apparent unity disappears in a flash. As someone who spent his working life in labour relations before coming to the House of Commons to represent a Glasgow seat, I say: please do not think that this is an easy problem.

If we accept the principle of the right to have a voluntary ballot, the first—and very important—problem to be faced is: what is the unit? Is the unit to be the trade union membership as a whole, or is it to be the local branch, the district or the area? This problem is often ignored. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has chosen to give his answer in his new clause. He has said that it should be the bargaining unit, where there is an offer being made in writing. It may be in a shop, it may be in an area, or it may be a national offer. But if we accept that it should be more than the massive trade union membership, cannot hon. Members see the most apalling trade union problems arising? Are they easy to resolve?

I give an example from my own working experience. Suppose that I am working on a newspaper and that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) is working on the same desk. Suppose that we are called out on strike because there is a dispute about a house agreement, concerning which negotiations are taking place. Suppose that we are out on the street for a week and then there is a national strike called by the trade union, as a result of which everyone has to go out on strike. But suppose that meanwhile someone has asked for a ballot on our house agreement and that the result of the ballot is that the boys say that they do not want to go on strike over the house agreement. What then happens? Do we say that we on our paper go back to work because of the ballot—obviously, if we did not, it would make a nonsense of the whole business—or do we say that we stay out, in which case the ballot does not take place? My hon. Friend will be aware that employers can be pretty ruthless at times. Often during a general strike in an industry an individual employer likes nothing better than to have his newspaper published or to have his work go ahead.

The next question is: what is industrial action? It would be very easy if industrial action were just men walking out on strike after a union decision, but the one thing that has emerged in recent years in a very big way is the variation in what is involved in industrial action. It is not just the old variations of a work-to-rule or sit-down strike. There are all kinds of things, such as non-co-operation. The most exciting one that I saw was when everyone agreed that because of pressing personal reasons they were not able to work overtime.

The third general point that I make to my hon Friend and others is: do remember that it is very difficult indeed to draw a fine distinction—as the supporters of the new clause have—between a voluntary and a mandatory system of ballots. The feeling is that if there are mandatory ballots, somehow we have the involvement of the law, the courts and the policemen, whereas, if we have voluntary ballots, none of these people is involved. But it is not as easy as that.

Under the new clause—and it is a very important and detailed proposal—what happens if a railway strike is called right across the country and, under the clause, 500 railwaymen say "We want a ballot"? The action would then have to be suspended. One might take the view that there is no need to suspend the action, but my hon. Friend has faced up to this and said that, if there is a request for a ballot, the action must be suspended.

What do we say, then, if the national executive of the National Union of Railwaymen, taking the view that the great majority support the union's action, says "We shall ignore this and go on with the strike"? We then have the problem of the full range of the mandatory principle. We have the individual steelworks manager saying "My work is being held up because of this strike, which appears to be illegal." We have a whole series of actions for civil damages, common damages, and so on.

Can we also leave out police involvement? If we are to have the principle of a ballot depending upon 15 per cent. of workers asking for a ballot, or 500 people, my hon. Friend will be aware—and this is a very important point—that people will say "I am signing this petition, I think 15 per cent. have decided, but how can I trust these union officials, who are all Communists? How do I know that they are not tearing up the ballot papers as they are going in, or throwing them out into the bucket?" Who is to check up on all this? Who is to decide whether 15 per cent. of the membership have sent in their names?

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It would be difficult to do it, in my view, unless one had some official, some policeman or some legal person whose job was to check up on all these things. Before we know where we are, we are very closely back to our old, unfortunate, 1971 Act. Those who think that a very fine distinction can be drawn between the voluntary ballot, which does not involve any policemen, court officials or lawyers, and the mandatory ballot of the 1971 Act, should realise that it is not as easy as that.

I make my final point as someone who supports the principle of the ballot—I should like my right hon. Friend to go ahead with negotiations and to sort it out—but have we honestly thought in the long term not just of the good consequences but of the other consequences which might arise if we have this instant referendum technique? Have we thought what would be the effect on the authority of trade union leadership in negotiation?

I spent five years in the Clyde shipyards, where we had loads of strikes and appalling labour relations. The problem was not that the trade unions were too powerful. The problem was that the trade union leadership was too weak, did not have authority, and could not speak for the membership. That was the big problem. Are we to be able to resolve this automatically if we have the instant referendum?

Would it strengthen the authority of the House of Commons if on any major issue coming before the House at any time we were to have instant referendums in our constituencies? When I was last in the House, I was almost stoned for suggesting that the question of capital punishment might be a suitable issue for a national referendum. I was told that it was an appalling suggestion and was upsetting all the principles of Burke, and so on, and that if we wanted to have strong, good, decent Members of Parliament, they should be given a five-year mandate and allowed to get on with the job.

What about trade union leadership? What about negotiations? How are we to have strong, powerful and adequate trade union leadership if on issues where the strike threat is one of the bargaining weapons, there is the possibility, non-stop, of the instant referendum? This is something that should be thought through carefully.

I am sorry to have spoken for 10 minutes instead of the five minutes that I promised someone who was trying to put very great pressure on me. I think that my right hon. Friend will find that most of us support the principle, but to those who have put it forward I say: please do not think that it is an easy problem or that it will solve all our labour relations difficulties.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

I, too, wish to be brief in my contribution. I rise to speak because I am deeply suspicious of any group or any party within this House which thinks it has the philosopher's stone, the cure-all or the panacea that will solve the problems of industrial relations in the 1980s. I have a deep suspicion of certain people in the Conservative Party who seem to think that ballots are an alternative to a serious and constructive industrial relations policy.

From my experience of industrial life I believe that there is no substitute for good industrial relations. In the real world there are bad and good employers. In the real world there are bad and good trade unionists. There is good and bad on all sides. We know that the real job is to bring men of good will on either side of industry together to work constructively for the future of all our people.

But in industry it is essential to treat people like human beings, whether they be on management side or the trade union side. The importance of this principle is often missed. We cannot legislate for that. Ballots, and the introduction of the instant ballot, will not do anything to change this basic fact. Most men of good will on each side of the House will realise—I am sure that the Secretary of State realises it—that the issues and the problems of industrial relations in Britain in 1980 are far more fundamental and are far more related to our history of social class and social division than any mucking around with ballots could put right.

I draw the attention of the House to an industrial dispute in which a ballot is being used at this very moment in trying to resolve a problem. I refer to Hopkinsons Limited, an engineering company of great renown in Huddersfield, just outside my constituency. It is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens). I see that he is one of the sponsors of the new clause. He is not in the Chamber at the minute. There has been a dispute at Hopkinsons for nine long weeks. The dispute arose—Conservative Members might be surprised at this—because the management unilaterally abrogated an agreement between manage- ment and trade unions that was worked out over a long period of time and signed by each side 18 months ago.

The agreement was effective and increased productivity by 20 per cent. It was a good agreement. It secured pension rights and the closed shop that both management and trade unions wanted. The Secretary of State for Employment visited Hopkinsons Ltd. and said that it was a fine example of management and trade unions working together. Then a senior manager was replaced and overnight that agreement was abrogated by management. This led to a strike that is now in its ninth week. It includes everyone from the office girls to the security police. Every union worker in that establishment is on strike.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

The management refused to negotiate about a pension scheme—the central issue—and refused to take part in a civilised discourse between civilised human beings on the management and trade union side. Rather than resolving the dispute, the management suddenly decided last Friday to hold a ballot. Instead of holding consultations and cementing good union and management relationships, the old Gaullist frame-word of "civilised life" was imposed. The management said, in effect, in its ballot: "We have three questions for you to answer chaps. They are simple, and all are loaded against your trade union and your negotiating position". The first proposition was that employees should have the opportunity to express their views at a mass meeting to be arranged. The workers had to answer either "Yes" or "No". The second proposition was that the company's proposals provided a basis for negotiation. Again the workers could only answer "Yes" or "No". The third proposition was that trade union officials should re-open negotiations. What a loaded ballot. Conservative Members have not come clean about this, including those who have tabled the new clause. Who will design these ballots?

We have seen the problems that referendums involve in other countries, especially France. We have seen that referendums can be easily loaded towards one point of view. Anyone considering the Hopkinsons ballot will see that ballots are not a substitute for industrial relations. They will destroy the good relationships that so many good companies have built up.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

I shall give way shortly. The legislation, and this clause, will destroy industrial relations, not improve them. Opposition Members have consistently put forward that argument both in the House and in Committee. If one introduces a "panacea" that does not solve the profound problems of British industry and if one goes for fools' gold, one ends up undermining the good that exists. This is a pernicious clause in a poor piece of legislation. The Opposition have consistently opposed it. Such cure-alls will do nothing to help our position.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton West

Some time ago the hon. Gentleman uttered remarks that referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens). Did he have the courtesy to tell my hon. Friend beforehand that he would make such remarks?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

I apologise. I meant no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman. As he is a sponsor of the Bill, one would expect him to be here. I did not intend any discourtesy.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Hamilton Mr Jimmy Hamilton , Bothwell

Will my hon. Friend confirm that many of his constituents work in the factory that he has mentioned?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

That is certainly the case. I took it for granted that hon. Members would be aware that my constituency contains about half the work force of that firm. As I thought that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West was a sponsor of the Bill, I thought that he would be here.

Finally, the 1,700 men who are on strike in my constituency are good, sensible and productive workers. They do not like strikes or bad industrial relations. However, for some years they have been treated as something less than human beings. That is the crux of the problem, and it cannot be solved by ballots.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East

I wish to interject a note of caution about these new clauses. My remarks will be very much along the lines of the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). In principle, we are probably all in favour of secret ballots, just as in principle we are all, no doubt, against sin. Will these new clauses, and the ringing declarations of principle that follow them, improve industrial relations? I fear that they will not. I fear that they will lead to an epidemic of ballotitis, which could infect and poison industrial relations in many way and for many years.

The precedents for the uses and abuses of the mandatory right to ballot are by no means universally encouraging. Several hon. Members have referred to the National Union of Journalists. I am a member of that union of some 13 years standing. It is a very democratic union. It is a broad church. It has members to the Right of General Franco and to the Left of Chairman Mao.

However, few issues in recent years have caused more heat and passion than that of the closed shop in journalism. There were endless ballots on that issue. The policy of the national executive was reversed by ballot. It was then taken to conference by ballot and reversed by conference. I shall relate only half the saga. However, the net result was total confusion. When we had great debates on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act in 1974 and 1976, virtually nobody could confirm the policy of the NUJ towards the closed shop in journalism. When the dust settled, this burning issue was properly settled at branch, or as we call it, chapel level by individual trade unionists who argued in the traditional face-to-face way.

The same point could be made about another union. I refer to Equity. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) read out part of a letter from Mr. Roger Gale of the Conservative Trades Unionists' Communications Group. He seemed to think that it was wholly in support of these clauses. He stopped reading the letter just before an interesting paragraph, which refers to Equity. It states: It is the mandatory right to demand a ballot—the 'referendum' that the moderates in British Equity have so successfully used to keep their union out of the hands of the broad left". The shop steward of the moderates in Equity is my brother-in-law, the actor Mr. Nigel Davenport. Naturally, I have heard a great deal from him about his battles. At times I have felt about those battles as Lady Eden was supposed to have felt about the Suez Canal: that it flowed through her drawing room. When one hears the stories about ballots for and again Vanessa's loonies, for and against Davenport's dare-devils and for and against Marius Goring's go-getters—issues that have been well publicised—one wonders, as a fellow trade unionist in the communications industry, if the issues might not have been better settled by traditional shop floor discussion.

The points raised so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East are valid. The issue is much more complex than some of the speeches in favour of the new clause have implied. The mandatory right to ballot is a two-edged sword. The situation is not perfect without a right to ballot, or with a right to ballot. More consultation is needed before taking any dramatic legislative step. No doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary are right to talk of a brick by brick approach. My right hon. Friend resembles the beleagured figure of Horatius on the bridge. As Lord Macaulay said: But those behind cried 'Forward!'And those before cried 'Back!' I believe that my right hon. Friend is more or less guarding the bridge in the right place and in the right way. I shall support him in the Lobby tonight.

7 pm

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I declare an interest as a national officer of the Post Office Engineering Union for 20 years. I am curious about the objective of the new clauses. Is it thought that they will increase democracy in the unions? If that is their objective, they will fail. Is it thought that they will reduce the number of strikes? If that is their objective, they will also fail.

I make it perfectly clear that I agree with those who believe that Britain's strike record is nowhere near as bad as it has been painted by Conservative Front Bench spokesmen in the past and by the media. In a recent Department of Employment press notice I read: In the international 'league table' Britain's strike record remains a respectable one. Some people might be surprised to know that strike losses of working days for every 1,000 employees were worse in the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy in the last five years for which we have figures.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Tower Hamlets Bethnal Green and Bow

My hon. Friend is making a valid point. Is he aware that the first two countries that he mentioned—those with the worst strike records—have legislation for ballots?

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

That is so.

The press notice continues: Virtually all the 70 manufacturing companies in a German survey said that productivity in the period 1977 to 1979 was 'satisfactory' to 'excellent'. Some even claimed to have higher productivity than in Germany. And eight out of 10 had had no official stoppages in the previous two years.Other surveys have come up with similar findings. A recent study of a group of nearly 200 foreign owned subsidiaries of overseas companies in the North-West of England revealed that only one had experienced a strike. This is not a press notice issued a year ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). It was issued on 11 April this year by the Minister of State, Department of Employment, the Earl of Gowrie. That was the Government's official view on strikes in this country—a different point of view from some that we have heard expressed from the Conservative Benches.

To listen to Conservatives today one would think that the generality of experience is that national trade union officers and their executives go round the country constantly looking for trouble and for incidents to exploit. One would think that they constantly tried to bring men and women out on strike. Those of us who have been involved in industrial relations know that that is a travesty of the truth. The reality is that the vast majority of trade union officials are constantly trying to maintain peace and discipline and to put pressure on union members to keep agreements. The reality of industrial life is that full-time union officials are often pressed by activists to go much further. It has not been my experience that active trade unionists tell their executive that it is going too far or that it is fighting too hard. In fact, the active rank and file often tell full-time officials that they are not fighting hard enough, that they are making too many compromises and that they are too moderate. That is the reality of the national leadership. Often it takes up a position that is far more moderate then the rank and file want it to be.

The picture from the Conservatives is one of a full-time official being rather like a general or a managing director of a firm—someone with the authority to order people out and to keep them away from work. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is often difficult for activists to get people out on strike, it is sometimes difficult to persuade them to go back to work. Those of us who are trade union officials must work within a democratic framework. We are not working within the Army or within the hierarchy of industrial management. We do not have public school traditions of discipline and fagging behind us. We have to work within the established democratic framework. Our constant problem is to reflect the points of view of different sections within our unions. It is often difficult and complex to determine precisely what the rank and file want. The point of view which comes across from the Tory Benches is most unrealistic.

Would the holding of ballots reduce industrial conflict? I do not believe that it would. The new clauses are an unofficial strikers' charter. The Chief Whip is frowning at me and looking at the clock, so I shall finish my remarks shortly. All these clauses do is to forbid the official union machinery to call a dispute or create industrial action without a ballot. In no way would they stop unofficial action. At a time of tension all that these clauses would do would be to pass the leadership from the elected, accountable, official leaders to the unofficial leaders and it would be far more likely that Communists would take over the leadership of unions in industry.

Would the new clauses make the present system more democratic? I do not think so. I do not believe that referendums are necessarily democratic. After a vote had been taken and people had voted to go on strike, it would be very much more difficult to get them back again; that is certain. I believe that the argument has been put that there would have to be another ballot to get the workers back to work. That would be true in practice. If people had balloted to come out in support of a claim and that claim was not met in full, the trade union would need to have another ballot to persuade its members to return to work unless the employers had conceded everything that was being balloted upon in the first place.

I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that the position in relation to referendums is the same in the unions as in our own political constitution. One of the great objections to referendums is that people will often vote without considering in detail the issues involved. In the absence of enough information, they are just as likely to vote for a strike as against one.

I very much hope that, in the interests of sound industrial relations, the Government hold the line tonight. I could speak longer, but the Chief Whip does not believe in ballots. He believes in intimidation. I shall therefore resume my seat.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Windsor and Maidenhead

I am also aware that there is a clock on each side of the Chamber and that both Chief Whips can see them. I shall be as brief as possible. I signed the early-day motion orginally concerned with this Clause. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have raised the matter. This is not only a constitutional issue but a highly complex one. The principle is whether the average individual member of trade unions is given a secret ballot and, as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said, we provide for the protection of the rights of individuals in our society.

My right hon. Friend, when he replies, will no doubt say that there is need for further time for consultation and for Green Papers and White Papers and all other colours of papers. More important, I suggest, is that if he accepts the principle of the secret ballot, he must examine and consult about the actual machinery for such a process. It is the principle and the machinery that needs to be established.

It is argued that secret ballots were not adumbrated in the Conservative manifesto. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) disposed of that. I believe that there is a feeling throughout the country and amongst the majority of trade unionists that the possibilities of the secret ballot should be explored and if possible implemented. My right hon. Friend has some ammunition. It may not be possible for the clauses, as drafted, to be included in the Bill. That may give an excuse for the House not proceeding to a Division. I hope that my right hon. Friend will direct his attention to those matters. The fact should not escape him that a large number of my hon. Friends, a large number of trade unionists and a considerable body of opinion in the country do not want the matter to be swept under the carpet in a Green Paper. They want to see the matter properly explored and to ensure that the machinery that is imposed and used is right and just.

I have listened to all the arguments made in the debate. I have been present the whole day. I understand the complexity and the difficulties of the machinery. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give the House sufficient assurance so that these amendments will not need to be put to a vote. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance on the legality of the new clauses, that he will reiterate that the principle is accepted and that, if there is to be consultation, the views of his hon. Friends will be considered. I hope he will make sure that there is agreement amongst all parties about the machinery to be used in this difficult operation of the secret ballot. If he can give those assurances, we may be able to avoid a Division.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

I hesitate to intervene in this debate. It is very much a debate that is taking place on the Government side of the House in the sense that all the disagreements come from that side. This shows the difficult task of the Secretary of State in trying to convince his hon. Friends that this is a complex matter and that ballots will not necessarily result in better industrial relations. As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, they could result in more difficult industrial relations. In any event, the Opposition are anxious to debate the wider and more fundamental issues associated with the Bill. We have put down amendments that have been selected by Mr. Speaker. I would not like the debate to pass, however, without giving the Opposition's view on this issue.

7.15 pm

I am always amazed by the naivety of some Conservative Members. Some of them—certainly a substantial number of those who have addressed the House—give the impression that if only ballots were held industrial disputes would not arise. Every experience shows this to be wholly fallacious. There are hundreds of practical problems associated with balloting. Those hon. Members do not take into account the experience, the rules and the traditions of some of our trade unions. To adopt a legislative formula, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and some of his hon. Friends propose, would be the worst of all worlds.

It has amazed some of my hon. Friends and me that the House should be debating this new clause, the principal sponsor of which is the hon. Member for Winchester. The hon. Member was a member of the Standing Committee. We spent 10 hours in Committee debating clause 1 and the general principle of ballots. The hon. Gentleman did not seek to introduce the new clause at that time. There is no reason why he should have done so. It is sometimes better to wait until the Bill reaches the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman made no mention of his proposal in Committee.

Listening to the speeches of some hon. Members, I am at a loss to understand their practical experience of trade union affairs. I would not be so arrogant as to suggest that hon. Members do not have the right to take part in debates on industrial relations. I might wish to comment from time to time about such matters as banking. I understand, however, that the hon. Member for Winchester is a banker and a soldier of some distinction. I am not aware that he has worked on the shop floor. I do not think that he is a member of any trade union or that he understands the principles of trade unions.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), according to The Times Guide to the House of Commons, is a senior buyer of foodstuffs. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had experience of individual trade unions. If so, he will no doubt intervene and say so. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) does not represent Dartford, but I give way to him.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

The right hon. Gentleman is introducing a novel principle in the conduct of the affairs of the House that only direct personal experience qualifies hon. Members to speak on subjects. That is a very revolutionary principle.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

I would not suggest anythink like that. I recognise that members of the legal profession sometimes look a bit sideways when some of my hon. Friends speak about that profession and suggest that they should not intervene, but the House always listens more seriously to individuals if they have practical experience.

The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), again according to The Times Guide to the House of Commons, listing the background of Members of Parliament, is a wine merchant and a chartered accountant. I do not know what is his practical experience of trade unions. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin), who I see in his place, is a farmer, a landowner, a company director and a public house licensee.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

Would the right hon. Gentleman deny me the right to state an opinion on an Abortion Bill?

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

Of course not. I say, I think for the sixth time, that I do not seek to suggest that hon. Members should be denied an opportunity to speak. I merely wish to assess the value of the contributions they make.

I need not go through the list of speeches made on the Government side, but hon. Members supporting the Secretary of State have some practical experience of industrial relations. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who made a forceful speech, has some experience of industrial relations as a personnel officer. The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) has practical experience of industrial relations. Both are totally opposed to what the hon. Member for Winchester and his hon. Friends wish to do.

People with practical experience on both sides of the House counsel caution about moving down the road which leads to mandatory ballots. If the numbers are set as low as 15 per cent. or 500, that means mandatory ballots, with all their difficulties.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of practical experience. He is talking about practical experience of one of the most chaotic countries in the world in terms of industrial relations.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

That emphasises what I was saying.

The Minister of State, Lord Gowrie, gave evidence to a Committee in which he admitted, under close questioning, that the strike record in Britain is not that bad compared with other industrial countries. Industrial relations always deteriorate under Conservative Governments. One can trace the figures back to 1945. Twice as many days are always lost through industrial disputes under Conservative Governments as under Labour Governments.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Nantwich

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the reasons why industrial relations deteriorate under Conservative Governments is the political use of power by trade union leadership?

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

It is not a question of that. There is always a steady deterioration under Conservative Governments.

The House is anxious to listen to the Secretary of State and to come to a decision, so I shall issue one final word of warning. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) threatened the Secretary of State. He said that if the Secretary of State did not indicate that the proposition will be included in the Green Paper there would be mass hostility and a mass vote against the Government in favour of the new clause. That is no way to behave towards the Secretary of State for Employment. The hon. Member said that the Secretary of State could go through the consultative process provided that he gave a guarantee that such a proposal would be included.

The new clause is nonsense. I suspect that the Secretary of State and his colleagues also regard it as nonsense. Those with experience in industrial relations on the. Government side say that it is nonsense. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will state that the new clause cannot be accepted. If necessary, we shall vote with him in the Lobby this evening.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

We have had a long, interesting and good humoured debate. A number of important issues have been raised. I shall try to put some of the serious problems in perspective in relation to what we seek to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) quoted an Ancient and Modern hymn at me. I shall quote another— Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom". I am not sure that the gloom has been lifted entirely from my presence by some of the speeches from behind me. However, I shall do my best to shed as much light as possible.

I begin by shedding a little light on the famous resolution supposedly passed by Conservative trade unions at their annual conference. I was there. The resolution stated: This conference, recognising that the 40 per cent. of trade unionists who voted Conservative at the last election did so in earnest support for the manifesto's commitment to trade union reforms, urges Her Majesty's Government to implement those reforms at the earliest possible time. This conference further urges Her Majesty's Government to pay particular attention to the law relating to the use of secret ballots and not to be intimidated by the bluster of largely unrepresentative trade union leaders. That gives a slightly different impression from that given in the letter by Mr. Gale.

It is always useful to reread a manifesto and remind oneself of what was said a year ago. The manifesto states: Wider use of secret ballots for decisionmaking throughout the trade union movement should be given every encouragement. We will therefore provide public funds for postal ballots for union elections and other important issues. Every trade unionist should be free to record his decisions as every voter has done for a hundred years in parliamentary elections without others watching and taking note. That is reasonable.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West

Will my right hon. Friend explain how every trade unionist can be free to record his decision if the process by which every trade unionist is so free is decided according to the customs of individual trade unions?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I have always hoped, after much consideration, that by the use of voluntary means and the Government pro- viding cash for postal ballots, and as a result of the pressure for the holding of secret ballots, that will happen for all trade unionists. Great improvements have been made in the last year or so and we should not believe from the fact that it has not happened yet that the aim in the manifesto will not be achieved by the end of this Parliament. I believe that it can be achieved.

We attach great importance to secret ballots for a variety of purposes, but undoubtedly for the election of union officers at national level. As in other countries, in Britain strong moderate leaders, elected by, and therefore supported by, the broad base of their members, are the surest means of achieving both national and trade union success.

After long and anxious consideration, we decided some time ago—and we have been examining the issue for a number of years—that the most likely means of achieving our aims, which are so widely shared, is by encouragement and the provision of funds rather than by compulsion. The importance of that—and it is amply borne out by the TUC's attitude—is that no one can reasonably accuse us of meddling in union affairs. It provided a basis for those who wanted to use the money for secret ballots to take it without feeling that they were letting down their colleagues.

Considerable pressure is being exerted within the TUC to dissuade unions from taking the cash. Some unions are resisting that; and where some lead others will follow. I do not believe that that would have happened if we had moved to compulsion.

I stress, therefore, that our primary purpose is to get unions to elect their national leaders by means of secret ballot—probably postal. That in itself will do more to reform industrial relations than anything else that we are likely to do in this Parliament. That is where our main thought and effort should be directed. We hear much in modern times about appealing to the shop floor—the rank and file or average trade unionist—over the heads of union leaders. We all know the reasons why and I think that we should all recognise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), that it is not a satisfactory state of affairs to deliberately undermine the authority of leaders.

7.30 pm

That can lead to greater extremism, to more thrashing about and, at the end of the day, to anarchy. The movement towards secret ballots is growing. In the pragmatic and conservative way of approaching problems of industrial relations I urge my hon. Friends to allow it to proceed.

I believe that there is an important—perhaps fundamental—change taking place. It is not easy to fathom when one is in the middle of it and one cannot predict the outcome. Change in trade union structure is a topic of great conversation. The shop floor is no longer to be relied upon meekly to follow the lead, on which they have had no say, from leaders to whom they do not feel committed.

Hon. Friends have told me and the House that they believe that the tide is flowing strongly in our direction and strongly in the direction of need for change. I accept that. My task is to advise the House and the country on how best to aid change, and to interpret what is going on. My instinctive reaction is to say that when things are starting to move on their own we should let the process continue.

The British are jealous of their past. They are great guardians of what they see as hard gained rights. As many of us learned in the Services—including my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne)—volunteers for a job are generally better than those pressed. Sometimes, therefore, I find myself in the middle of the argument between those who say that nothing can be done—which is, I think, what many Opposition Members have been saying—and some of my hon. Friends who urge me to do more.

However, the argument is raging and it is a healthy one. The argument is much less sterile than those of the last few years. It is possible for the great majority of responsible men and women—many of them trade unionists—to see that we are, painstakingly and with great effort, seeking policies which are balanced and fair. Even those who disagree with us politically are able to support our general approach. Those on the shop floor who agree with us, and who in some cases are anxious for us to go further and do more, have no difficulty in defending our approach against their critics.

People in industry whose opinion I respect tell me that the attitude among management and workers to allow and make this Bill work is far greater than in 1971. This is important and it is against that background that I come to discuss the detailed clauses put forward by my hon. Friends.

Let me say again, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that the underlying principle of these clauses will give the power of referendum to people on the shop floor. That is what it is all about. In many ways in a democracy it is a reasonable thing to do. That power would be given and at the same time as those on the shop took that power they would be taking power away from trade union leaders.

I must say that it is partly because the country—this is a widely held view—does not believe that the trade union leaders often represent the true views of the shop floor that this kind of movement has grown over the last few years. I think that that makes out the case and that is why we came to this conclusion after much consideration.

The use of the secret ballot for election to trade union office is important. It is important at national level and much more important, perhaps, in secret ballots on the premises and in employers' time.

I do not propose to seek to shoot down these clauses on technical grounds. Very often as a frustrated Back Bencher I have listened to Ministers shooting down badly drafted amendments. It is not easy to draft amendments and generally it is even harder to understand them when they are put into proper form. But it is easy to understand the principle which underlies the views of my hon. Friends in these new clauses.

It is very important, however, for me to indicate some of the very profound difficulties which would arise from the new clauses in practice, and I emphasise "in practice".

The House will not expect me to give a detailed analysis of each of the clauses, and the numerous technical and practical difficulties to which each gives rise. I will, however, mention three general problems which in my view none of the new clauses manages successfully to overcome.

First, none of the clauses deals satisfactorily with the problem of unofficial action—regrettably the most prevalent form of industrial action in Britain. New clauses 2, 3 and 5, in the names, respectively, of my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford, Winchester and Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin) ignore the question altogether. The result is that unofficial action would continue to be lawful without a ballot being required and enjoy the protection of the immunities in TULRA. In fact, the effect of these clauses might well be to increase unofficial industrial action.

At present unions seek in some cases to gain control of unofficial strikes by making them official but this would not be at all an attractive course if the effect were to make it fall foul of the requirements of this clause. The same objection applies in respect of new clause 4.

New clause 6 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester clearly recognises this difficulty and makes a valiant attempt to deal with it. It does so, however, by seeking to provide that even unofficial groups are to be regarded for the purposes of the clause as though they were trade unions. The effect of this is again perverse.

So my hon. Friend is getting away from unofficial action and is saying that if they are unofficial groups—not supported by the union but unofficial groups within the works or within the union—they would be treated as though they were trade unions.

The effect of this is again perverse. It would give a respectability and status to unofficial groups which can win immunity for unofficial strike action by conducting a successful ballot which we should be straining in other respects to deny them. They are, indeed, put into a valid negotiating relationship with the employer because the clause requires the question to be asked in their ballot to be agreed with him.

In other words, the employer in those circumstances could find himself in the impossible position—which happened to British Leyland a few years ago—of being unable to negotiate with the unofficial group which has the power and of negotiating with the official group which has no power. What could happen on such occasions is that the employers could either be faced with negotiating with an unofficial group because that group had the requisite 15 per cent. and was in a position to demand that the employers help them with the ballot or negotiating with an unofficial group.

The second general problem which arises on all the clauses is the weapon they would place—unintentionally, I am sure—in the hands of militants to use in order to embarrass a responsible union leadership. New clauses 4 and 5 would enable a minority to trigger a ballot even where the union had no intention of taking strike action.

Thus, the union leadership may be doing everything my hon. Friends would desire; negotiating a realistic settlement in difficult circumstances. Yet under these clauses the militants have only to get a small minority of dissatisfied members to ask for a ballot, and one is then foisted on the leadership. Can one imagine a better way of undermining responsible leadership than that?

New clauses 2, 3 and 6 seek to avoid this problem but, in my view, unsuccessfully. New clauses 2 and 3 would provide militants with an argument to persuading members not to follow official union procedures. After all, why do so if the union may be hamstrung by the need to organise and conduct a ballot and perhaps even be deprived of its immunity?

New clause 6 will, as I have said, provide groups of militant workers with a number of ways in which to elevate their status and secure ballots which a moderate leadership would not want at a sensitive point in negotiations. For example, an unofficial group of members in a union may call upon the membership of the union in a major firm to strike knowing that it could then muster 15 per cent. of such members to pull the trigger for a ballot. This would give it a locus to hold a ballot and/or put pressure on the union officially to conduct one. The flexibility which recent experience tells us it is often important to leave in the hands of the negotiators would be seriously jeopardised. I draw attention to the way that a recent ballot was conducted by the craft unions at British Leyland and how that was dealt with.

Thirdly, none of the clauses, despite the brave effort of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, avoids the difficult problems inherent in the question of trade union immunities. Four of them—new clauses 2, 3, 4 and 6—specifically remove the section 13 and/or section 14 immunities from industrial action taken before a ballot or in defiance of the result of the ballot.

The fifth—new clause 5—does not mention immunities and clearly provides that, once the ballot is taken, the union is not bound by the outcome, even if the majority is against industrial action.

My hon Friend today, in effect, seems to be proposing that the clause is not requiring or putting any obligation on the union to hold a ballot. If that is his reading of it, it is a thoroughly bad principle, by statute, to impose obligations on people without providing for their enforcement. If that is what he wants, the place for it is in a code of practice, not in statute law. If he is not to put any sanction on the demanding of the 5 per cent., that will be the effect of the new clause. Therefore, I believe that would be better dealt with by a code of practice than by any other way.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Bristol North West

Not putting penalties or obligations on the union would still enable the ballot to take place. Once the ballot has taken place, the union is under no obligation to carry out the instructions of the ballot. But, if the ballot does not take place, the requisitionists or those requiring the ballot to take place, could engineer the ballot and apply to the certification officer for the funds and the names from the register so that they could conduct the ballot. The ballot would still take place, but there would be no obligation on the union to carry out the instructions of the ballot.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I now see what my hon. Friend is getting at, and I think that it has some merit. He is trying to create, as it were, the atmosphere for more secret ballots in which more secret ballots can take place. If there is no sanction as a result of a union refusing to take part in a ballot or having to take any action as a result of a ballot—if the members vote one way and the union goes the other way—there will be some difficulty. I think that what my hon. Friend has now said requires further consideration, as I am sure he will agree.

7.45 pm

I hope that my hon. Friends will recognise that these objections to their new clauses are not merely drafting points; they go to the whole problem of the difficulties of trying to move for compulsion in this area. They represent practical effects with far-reaching consequences. It is not something that good will between now and the Bill going to the other place can put right. It is inherent in the character of the problem.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) and Bristol, North-West put considerable pressure behind the fact that what they were seeking to do was very much along the lines of what was in company law—that Parliament has intervened in the running of companies by giving rights to shareholders in one way or another to give effect to their wishes—and that is what we should be seeking to do in these measures. The problem is that that has been going on in company law for many years. The provision to which my hon. Friends have referred dates back to the Companies Clauses (Consolidation) Act 1845, so a tradition has been built up. I do not think it wise to regard that analogy as an assurance that in one step an equivalent provision either should or could be brought into trade union law. We ignore historical differences at our peril—something of which Tories are always well aware. Therefore, I do not believe that is a route down which we should go.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, in a radio interview yesterday, said: the more, of course, one looks into the question of secret ballots, the more complex it appears. I hope that I have been able to give some indication that those are the real problems that we see. The fact that we have had five new clauses with important differences of principle, emphasis and effect between them illustrates the complexity of the subject.

Some of the clauses show that my hon. Friends recognised the difficulties in the earlier clauses and sought to cater for them in their own drafting. But, as each attempt was made to plug the hole in the one before, still more appeared. The truth is that the difficulties inherent in the whole concept of legally-imposed ballots are much more fundamental than mere draftsmanship can resolve.

If genuine union democracy could readily be imposed by legislation in this way I should be the first to propose it, because I believe that is the stage that we must reach. But these new clauses show that there is a great deal more to it than that. We need not only effective union democracy, but responsible union leadership. We need to curb, not to increase, unofficial action. We need to weaken destructive elements in the union movement, not to give them further means by which to create trouble. It is not easy to reconcile these objectives with mechanisms imposed through legal requirements.

After all, this approach is by no means at odds with our approach to other questions of industry. Just as it is greatly preferable for firms to develop their own forms of employee involvement than to have one structure imposed on them by law, so it is a mistake to believe that union democracy and accountability can readily be secured by imposing rigid procedures on unions by law. In both cases it is better to encourage voluntary development than to attempt to impose it.

At the start of my speech I set out the general position of the Government towards secret balloting. I have tried to show my hon. Friends some of the pitfalls in the way that they seek to legislate and the need to approach this extension of shop floor power and democracy with caution. I cannot stress too strongly that, having lived with this problem for a number of years, we have over those years earnestly sought to overcome these difficulties and to find a principle which would be acceptable and would work.

I sense that there is a deeply felt instinct in the country that what I propose may not be enough. I do not think that we, in this House, do ourselves any good if we do not accept that. I am fully aware that many of my hon. Friends feel deeply and sincerely that more, somehow, has to be done. There have been too many examples in recent years of people who have lost their jobs, or who have felt in some way or another that they were forced to strike, much against their will, and without having any chance to express their wishes. The House has to accept that view. There may be sharp differences between the ways in which we may seek to solve the problems, but we must not underestimate the very strong feeling in the country about that subject.

Much of the discussion has been centred around the need for some sanction if the trigger is not pulled. That has taken us into the whole area of withdrawal of immunity. I know that this is not a Government-imposed ballot. Of course I understand the principle behind my hon. Friends' actions. However, I still feel and fear that going down that compulsory route in that way, and using the withdrawal of immunities as a means to create the sanction that will be necessary, would land us in a great deal of difficulty.

We are to have a Green Paper later this year. Its main purpose is to discuss the thorny problem of trade union immunities. But it cannot do so in isolation from the problems of secret balloting. For instance, there is the question whether, as these new clauses suggest, there should be no immunity for industrial action unless a secret ballot has been held by the work force concerned, and it supports the action. I assure my hon. Friends, and I give them this undertaking, that all these matters will be relevant. From an open and informed debate we can decide how then to proceed. I believe that that is the correct approach—it gives us a chance to see how the present proposals are accepted. It is, as I have outlined, in keeping with our general philosophy, and what we have preached for a number of years.

The industrial relations scene is not a static one—it has changing moods as it ebbs and flows. It is dangerous to predict what will be the general mood in a few months' time. The step by step approach—and I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) who asked me a specific question—does not rule out further legislation. It is implicit in any approach which seeks to build on solid progress. We have to show that our legislation, far from seeking to clobber effective and necessary trade unionism, is designed to improve the standard of living, the wealth, and the productivity of all our people. That is why we are here. That is why we are debating the subject today.

If we advance in that way, we shall continue to carry the consent of people with us, and the bitterness, sterility, and bankruptcy of the debate of the last few years, which has dragged down this country, will be put behind us. I urge my hon. Friends to have steadiness, and to have understanding of what we are seeking to do. I share their anxieties and their hopes. I ask them, in return, to share mine.

Photo of Mr John Gorst Mr John Gorst , Barnet Hendon North

There are answers to all the difficulties that my right hon. Friend has put forward. May I remind him that we were elected on Tory votes to achieve trade union reform, not to resist it on Labour votes?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I believe that more trade unionists voted for our party at the last election than at any time since the war. Those trade unionists want to see changes made. That is what is incorporated in the Employment Bill. I know that some people are saying that my approach is "softly, softly"—I know all the other expressions that they use—but I believe that this is a matter that is now very important, not only for the future of industrial relations, but for the whole future of our democracy and our Parliament.

There are many hon. Members who have been in the House over the past few years and have seen the struggles between one side or the other on industrial relations matters. None of us has got it right. Yet the country continues to suffer and the standard of living of our people declines. We have to do better than that. We can do better than that, but we must do it in a reasonable and steady manner—

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I must continue. I believe that the approach that we are adopting, although it does not go as far as some of my hon. Friends would wish me to go—the consultations that we have had, the incorporation in the Bill of the main proposals that were in the manifesto, the further feeling now that there should be a Green Paper for further consultation on these matters—is the right approach for the Government and for the country. I believe that all those trade unionists who voted Conservative—or most of them—actually want to see us somewhere in the middle, in a balanced position. That is what they want.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I shall give way to my non. Friend the Member for Reigate, but he is the last.

Photo of Mr George Gardiner Mr George Gardiner , Reigate and Banstead

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I know that he appreciates that this matter is at the core of the problem. Will he clarify a little further the status of the proposed Green Paper to which he referred? The last two consultative documents that he issued were issued with the intention of legislating. Is it fair to assume that the Green Paper that he intends to issue later this year is issued also with the intention of working out some appropriate legislation?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I must make the matter perfectly clear to my hon. Friend. I wish desperately to carry him and the party with me, but I cannot do it at the expense of misleading him in any way on the subject. I would never dream of doing that. I wish to make it absolutely plain that the consultative documents that we have published over a period of months during the preparation of the Bill arose out of direct commitments in the manifesto. Since that time there has been the whole question of immunities, for example, Express Newspapers v. Mac-Shane. Because there was an implied commitment in the manifesto that we would review immunities, and that we would take whatever action we thought was necessary, there was consultation which led to the new clause that we debated last week.

The Green Paper is a paper for consultation. It does not commit the party or the Government to any particular form of legislation. I must make that point clear. I believe that there will have to be further legislation at some time. I do not think that we should shrink from legislation. However, I would not wish to mislead my hon. Friend in any way in what I have told him tonight.

It has been a long afternoon for someone who has sat through every speech. But I believe that we are on the right lines. I urge my colleagues to give me the majority and the support which the Government need to carry through their policies. These matters have never been easy. I believe that the tide is flowing in our direction, and I want it to continue that way. I hope that, in the spirit of what I have said, my hon. Friends will not seek to press their new clauses.

Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester

I thank my right hon. Friend for a generous, honourable and extremely persuasive speech, in which he correctly stressed the complexities of the subject of the secret ballot. They are complexities which I have never hesitated to stress. That is why I believe that new clause 3 is so essential. As I said, it is a mouse of a clause compared with a mandatory secret ballot. By enacting

it, we would see the problems in practice instead of just being cautious about theory. We would be able to be more certain in our substantive legislation later as a result of having seen ballots in practice.

I heard with gladness my right hon. Friend's sense of direction with regard to secret ballots, and I thank him for that. But I am afraid that I listened in vain for the commitment in principle which we are seeking, and it is, therefore, with regret that we shall force a Division on the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 48, Noes 491.

Division No. 259]AYES[8 pm
Alexander, RichardDunn, Robert (Dartford)Neale, Gerrard
Bell, Sir RonaldFry, PeterPenhaligon, David
Bendall, VivianGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Rost, Peter
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHannam, JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br-hills)
Brinton, TimHawksley, WarrenSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Brotherton, MichaelHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Steel, Rt Hon David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Howells, GeraintTemple-Morris, Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)Lawrence, IvanTownend, John (Bridlington)
Budgen, NickLennox-Boyd, Hon MarkWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Butcher, JohnLoveridge, JohnWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Marland, PaulWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Churchill, W. S.Marlow, TonyWard, John
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWinterton, Nicholas
Cockeram, EricMontgomery, Fergus
Colvin, MichaelMorgan, GeraintTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Cranborne, ViscountMurphy, ChristopherMr. George Gardiner and
Dickens, GeoffreyMyles, DavidMr. John Gorst.
Dover, Denshore
NOES
Abse, LeoBoscawen, Hon RobertChannon, Paul
Adams, AllenBottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Chapman, Sydney
Adley, RobertBottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Aitken, JonathanBowden, AndrewClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Alison, MichaelBoyson, Dr RhodesClegg, Sir Walter
Allaun, FrankBradford, Rev R.Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Ancram, MichaelBradley, TomCohen, Stanley
Anderson, DonaldBraine, Sir BernardColeman, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBray, Dr JeremyConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestBright, GrahamCook, Robin F.
Arnold, TomBrittan, LeonCope, John
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBrocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherCormack, Patrick
Ashton, JoeBrooke, Hon PeterCorrie, John
Aspinwall, JackBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)Costain, A. P.
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Cowans, Horry
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Bruce-Gardyne, JohnCritchley, Julian
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Bryan, Sir PaulCrouch, David
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Buchan, NormanCrowther, J. S.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Buck, AntonyCryer, Bob
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Bulmer, EsmondCunliffe, Lawrence
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBurden, F. A.Cunningham, George (Islington S)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodButler, Hon AdamCunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Cadbury, JocelynDalyell, Tam
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Davidson, Arthur
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Best, KeithCampbell, IanDavies, Ifor (Gower)
Bidwell, SydneyCampbell-Savours, DaleDavis, Clinton (Hackney Central)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCanavan, DennisDavis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
Biggs-Davison, JohnCant, R. B.Deakins, Eric
Blackburn, JohnCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Blaker, PeterCarlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Body, RichardCarter-Jones, LewisDempsey, James
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertCartwright, JohnDewar, Donald
Boothroyd, Miss BettyChalker, Mrs LyndaDixon, Donald
Dobson, FrankHaynes, FrankMarshall, David (G[...]sgow, Shettles'n)
Dormand, JackHealey, Rt Hon DenisMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Dorrell, StephenHeffer, Eric S.Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)
Douglas, DickHenderson, BarryMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHeseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMarten, Neil (Banbury)
Douglas-Mann, BruceHicks, RobertMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Dunlop, JohnHogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Mates, Michael
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Mather, Carol
Dunnett, JackHolland, Philip (Carlton)Maude, Rt Hon Angus
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethHome Robertson, JohnMawby, Ray
Durant, TonyHomewood, WilliamMawhinney, Dr Brian
Dykes, HughHooley, FrankMayhew, Patrick
Eadie, AlexHooson, TomMaynard, Miss Joan
Eastham, KenHoram, JohnMeacher, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHowe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Mellor, David
Eggar, TimothyHuckfield, LesMeyer, Sir Anthony
Elliott, Sir WilliamHudson Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedMikardo, Ian
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
English, MichaelHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidHughes, Roy (Newport)Mills, lain (Meriden)
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Evans, John (Newton)Hurd, Hon DouglasMiscampbell, Norman
Ewing, HarryIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Eyre, ReginaldJanner, Hon GrevilleMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Fairbairn, NicholasJay, Rt Hon DouglasMitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)
Fairgrieve, RussellJenkin, Rt Hon PatrickMoate, Roger
Faith, Mrs SheilaJohnson, Walter (Derby South)Molyneaux, James
Faulds, AndrewJohnson Smith, GeoffreyMonro, Hector
Fell, AnthonyJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Moore, John
Fenner, Mrs PeggyJones, Barry (East Flint)Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Field, FrankJones, Dan (Burnley)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Finsberg, GeoffreyJopling, Rt Hon MichaelMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Fisher, Sir NigelJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithMorris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Fitt, GerardKaberry, Sir DonaldMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineMorton, George
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesKerr, RussellMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
Fookes, Miss JanetKilfedder, James A.Needham, Richard
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelKilroy-Silk, RobertNelson, Anthony
Ford, BenKing, Rt Hon TomNeubert, Michael
Forman, NigelKinnock, NellNewens, Stanley
Forrester, JohnKitson, Sir TimothyNewton, Tony
Foster, DerekLamborn, Harry
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLamond, JamesNormanton, Tom
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Lamont, NormanNott, Rt Hon John
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Lang, IanOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Lawson, NigelOgden, Eric
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldLee, JohnO'Halloran, Michael
Freud, ClementLeighton, RonaldO'Neill, Martin
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Lester, Jim (Beeston)Onslow, Cranley
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Garel-Jones, TristanLewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
George, BruceLitherland, RobertPage, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Ginsburg, DavidLofthouse, GeoffreyPalmer, Arthur
Glyn, Dr AlanLuce, RichardPark, George
Golding, JohnLyell, NicholasParker, John
Goodhart, PhilipLyon, Alexander (York)Parkinson, Cecil
Goodlad, AlastairLyons, Edward (Bradford West)Parris, Matthew
Gourlay, HarryMabon, Rt Hon Dr J DicksonParry, Robert
Gow, IanMcCartney, HughPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Gower, Sir RaymondMcCusker, H.Patten, John (Oxford)
Graham, TedMcDonald, Dr OonaghPattie, Geoffrey
Grant, George (Morpeth)McElhone, FrankPawsey, James
Grant, John (Islington C)Macfarlane, NeilPendry, Tom
Gray, HamishMacGregor, JohnPercival, Sir Ian
Greenway, HarryMcKay, Allen (Penistone)Peyton, Rt Hon John
Grist, IanMacKay, John (Argyll)Pink, R. Bonner
Grylls, MichaelMcKelvey, WilliamPollock, Alexander
Gummer, John SelwynMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorPorter, George
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Maclennan, RobertPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)McMahon, AndrewPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Prescott, John
Hampson, Dr KeithMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMcNally, ThomasPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMcNamara, KevinPrior, Rt Hon James
Haselhurst, AlanMcQuarrie, AlbertProctor, K. Harvey
Hastings, StephenMcWilliam, JohnPym, Rt Hon Francis
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMadel, DavidRace, Reg
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMajor, JohnRadice, Giles
Hayhoe, BarneyMarks, KennethRaison, Timothy
Rathbone, TimSkeet, T. H. H.van Straubenzee, W. R.
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)Skinner, DennisVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Renton, TimSnape, PeterViggers, Peter
Rhodes James, RobertSoley, CliveWaddington, David
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonSpearing, NigelWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Richardson, JoSpeed, KeithWakeham, John
Ridley, Hon NicholasSpeller TonyWaldegrave, Hon William
Ridsdale, JulianSpence, JohnWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Rifkind, MalcolmSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)Waller, Gary
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreySpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)Warren, Kenneth
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Spriggs, LeslieWatkins, David
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Sproat, lainWatson, John
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)Squire, RobinWellbeloved, James
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Stallard, A. W.Wells, John (Maidstone)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Stanley, JohnWells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Steen, AnthonyWelsh, Michael
Robertson, GeorgeStevens, MartinWheeler, John
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Rodgers, Rt Hon WilliamStoddart, DavidWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Rooker, J. W.Stokes, JohnWhitehead, Phillip
Roper, JohnStott, RogerWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)Stradling Thomas, J.Whitlock, William
Ross, Stephen (isle of Wight)Strang, GavinWhitney, Raymond
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)Straw, JackWickenden, Keith
Rossi, HughSummerskill, Hon Dr ShirleyWiggin, Jerry
Royle, Sir AnthonyTapsell, PeterWigley, Dafydd
Ryman, JohnTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NormanTaylor, Teddy (Southend East)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Sandelson, NevilleTebbit, NormanWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Scott, NicholasThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Sever, JohnThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)Winnick, David
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)Wolfson, Mark
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)Woodall. Alec
Sheerman, BarryThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)Woolmer, Kenneth
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)Thompson, DonaldWrigglesworth, Ian
Shelton, William (Streatham)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)Wright, Sheila
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Young, David (Bolton East)
Shersby, MichaelThornton, MalcolmYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)Tilley, JohnYounger, Rt Hon George
Short, Mrs RenéeTinn, James
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Torney, TomTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Silverman, JuliusTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Silvester, FredTrippier, DavidMr. Anthony Berry.
Sims, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.