With this it will be conveient to take the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
'(1A) Subsection (1) above shall not apply to any trade union which elects its principal executive committee is elected as representatives of geographical areas or trade groups by a regional committee or trade group delegates who themselves have been elected by the relevant members of the Union in accordance with the provisions of section 2 of this Act.'
No. 17, in clause 1, page 2, line 5 at end insert—
'(1A) Subsection (1) above shall not apply to any trade union whose rules provide that the principal executive committee is elected as representatives of geographical areas or trade groups by a regional committee or trade group delegates who themselves have been elected by the relevant members of the Union in accordance with the provisions of section 2 of this Act.'
No. 23, in clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
'(1A) The principal executive committee may opt to waive the obligations of this section for a period of five years if they hold a secret postal ballot of all members whose results shows satisfaction with the current arrangements governing the membership and selection of the principal executive committee.'.
New clause 1 brings to the attention of the House a matter that is at the heart of the Government's intentions in part I of the Bill. In part I, the Government are trying to impose on all trade unions a chosen method of electing their principal executive committee. The House will know that part of the history of the British trade union movement is that the unions, through the decision of their members, have decided the constitution and method of election of their officials. The House will also know that British trade unions have developed in their own ways, according to their circumstances and traditions, the difficulties that they have faced and the needs of their members. If there is a general deduction to be drawn from the history of British trade unionism, I suggest that it is that, on the whole, the craft trade unions, which were the pioneers, tend to elect their principal executive committees by a system of direct election, by which the entire union elects the principal executive committee for a period of years. That can be seen in the present practice of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers.
The general unions that grew up later tend to represent a much more diverse membership. Examples are the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union and the Transport and General Workers Union, which tend to have more indirect methods of election. The reason is easily understood when we consider their history. They represent many people in many different occupations in different circumstances and are often the result of amalgamations. They have chosen a method of election that balances the interests of the various parts of the union and recognises diverse occupations and interests and the need to have a constitution that will work, having regard to the balance of forces and interests in the union.
One would have thought that, in approaching this matter, the Government would have been anxious to examine those factors carefully and, if they still felt the need to do anything, to respect that tradition and, above all, the wishes of the members of the trade unions. We put that to the test in new clause 1 by saying that any trade union can opt out of the Bill's provisions if it holds a ballot of its members to that effect. The Government are always telling us that the Bill is all about giving trade unions back to their members. We give them the opportunity to put the matter to the members of trade unions. If they say yes, the Government will have obtained assent, but if they say no to the proposition that the Government want to foist on them it will be crystal clear that the Government are interested not in doing what the members want but in implementing what the Government want.
The point at issue is not whether the trade unions should, in the Government's phrase, be given back to the members of trade unions — they have never been removed from the members—but whether there will be a constitution that has been decided and will be imposed by the Government or whether there will be a constitution that is freely chosen by the members of the trade unions. Freedom of association is as crucial as the freedom of the individual, and those freedoms must be weighed carefully by everyone who legislates in a democratic society.
It is of fundamental importance for free independent trade unions that they should be able to choose their own constitutions. Through the relevant ILO convention, that principle is enshrined in an international convention. It is seen internationally as a badge of the freedom of independent trade unions. We know from our recent history that trade unions in some parts of the world are shackled, whether by dictatorships of the Right or authoritarian regimes of the Left. The important question that we ask when we want to know whether trade unions are independent is how they make up their constitutions and run their internal affairs.
The Government are always telling us how shocking it is that trade union rights are suppressed in Poland, but they are happy to suppress them in this country, as we discovered, if we had not suspected it before, from their actions in the GCHQ dispute. Anyone who believes that the Bill has something to do with the good of trade unions should reflect on the Government's actions in that dispute.
Is it not a fact that, while preaching about trade unionism in eastern Europe, the Minister and his colleagues are keen to lay down restrictions on British trade unions, whether about the way in which they decide on internal matters or by banning trade unions altogether, as in the GCHQ dispute? What is more, is not the Conservative party one of the most undemocratic of all institutions, as, despite all pressure from within the party, there are no elections for party chairman and the Minister of State, Department of Employment, has been appointed to his post as party chairman without any balloting or consultation of Conservative Members?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing this feature to the attention of the wider audience that the Report stage affords us. I assure him that that point was not missed in Committee and we returned to it frequently, pointing out the inappropriateness of a politician who holds office as chairman of the Conservative party—a post to which he is not elected—giving lectures to institutions on British trade unions, which are founded on and live by the principles of democracy that the Conservative party so resolutely scorns.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not go on to say that the Committee established a rule that, when the argument of the Opposition looked weak, they would complain about the chairmanship of the Conservative party?
The hon. Gentleman must not be so immodest as to seek to elevate his problems into a principle. Day after day in Committee we sought to point out the sickening hypocrisy of a politician appointed to an unelected post giving lectures to free, independent and democratic British trade unions.
I point out one other thing to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). During the Committee debates on part III, on the political levy, the Minister did not even turn up, because even he saw the hypocrisy of being the chairman of the Conservative party and the Minister in charge of a Bill that sought to bankrupt the Labour party. He must have been given instructions on no account to put his face near the Committee. He took his salary as a Minister but he did not turn up for the shifts on the Committee and did not appear during any of our debates on part III. The Minister's negligence towards part III is paralleled only by his hypocrisy in part I.
If the Government had bona fides in their protestations that all they want to do is to bring democracy into British trade unions, why are they not willing to put it to the test? Why should not union members themselves decide? We are kind enough in this new clause to agree to the method of election or consultation that the Government specified in part I. We are giving the Government an opportunity to conduct the ballot in a way of which they approve and we ask them to put the question to trade union members
In case it is thought that it is only unions affiliated to the Labour party that are anxious about this matter, I tell the Secretary of State and the House that many trade unions that are not political in character are sometimes concerned about this matter as well, because they elect their executives in many different ways. Not long ago, I was told by the representatives of the Electrical Power Engineers Association, which elects its executive at its annual conference, that it used to have the system that the Government propose in the Bill of direct election every five years, but it decided that it lost control over the executive by using that method and it wanted more direct control over the executive by electing it annually at the conference. If that association, which is now called the Engineers and Managers Association, wants to conduct its affairs in that way, why should it not be free to do so? If a trade union wants to elect its executive indirectly from a series of regional ballots that recognise different regional characteristics, why should it not be free to do so?
If a trade union wants a system of ballots at branches or workplaces, or a system of annual, two-yearly or three-yearly elections, why should it not be free to have them? Why, in a free society, should we seek to circumscribe trade unions uniquely in the way in which they elect their governing bodies? These provisions are not for other bodies and this concern for democracy is not expressed for other sectors.
The Government tell us that there are to be no moves to implement the Vredeling initiative of the European Community offering elementary requirements for consultation — not even industrial democracy — because, they say, compulsion would be inappropriate and to use the law in this respect would be undesirable. How quaint that a Government who are prepared to legislate for what they call democracy in trade unions shrink from promoting the interests of workers in relation to their employers.
We know that the real purpose of part I is not to enhance democracy. If that were so, the Government would happily accept the new clause, which I am sure they will oppose. The real purpose is to divert British trade unions into internal constitution-making and, the Government hope, to bring about power struggles within trade unions as they have to grapple with those new constitutions. This will divert them from pressing for better wages and conditions for their members.
Under this Government, trade unions have been assaulted in two ways. First, they have been assaulted by the Government's economic policies, which have sent millions of their members into unemployment and reduced trade union membership and, therefore, trade union finances. Working people suffer most of all during a depression or recession such as we have had, and their trade unions suffer as well.
Secondly, there has been a legal attack; this is one of a series of Bills that are meant to undermine the effectiveness of the British trade union movement in carrying out its struggle on behalf of its members for better wages and conditions against employers in both the private and the public sectors, and against the Government.
We shall see in later parts of the Bill an attempt to muzzle the trade unions by changing the political objectives that have to be governed by the political fund, according to the Bill. This Government cannot be trusted with the liberties of others, as we have seen increasingly in recent events, and under them we have seen the manifestation of an authoritarian state. This is the Government who lecture trade unions and trade unionists about democratic rights and civil liberties. It is the hypocrisy of part I that has struck us most as we considered it in Committee; and it will strike the rest of the House and the general public outside our portals as they consider what is proposed here.
If the Government were honest in their professions about democratic rights and trade unions, they would leap at the possibility of consulting trade union members. I strongly suspect that in many trade unions these changes will not be welcome to the members. For example, I have no reason to suppose that the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union has been petitioning for years for the changes proposed in the Bill. There is no evidence that it wants direct election of the principal executive committee every five years instead of the carefully balanced system that it has at the moment. We asked Ministers repeatedly whether they had evidence that the members of that union, or of the British Medical Association, or of the Headmasters' Conference —which, believe it or not, is defined as a trade union for the purposes of the Bill—wanted the change. They could give us no such evidence.
We were told frequently, from the Second Reading onwards, that the Bill was vastly popular in the country, and particularly among trade unionists. If that is true, why are the Government reluctant to put the matter to a ballot of trade unionists in their unions? Why do not the Government live by the principles of democracy that they profess? The Government's attitude in this respect will reveal the hypocrisy of their reasoning. Not for them any understanding of the sensitivity of accountability in the trade union structure.
We have maintained throughout that one cannot just have democracy in terms of a snapshot election every five years. Democracy, in terms of our constitution as a nation or in terms of the constitution of trade unions and other organisations, occurs every week and month in the accountability of the people who run the organisation to the membership. It does not happen once every five years with the election of a committee. It occurs in reporting back to the branches and to the annual conference of the union, in the ability of members of the union to bring matters to the attention of the executive committee, through the union journal and through all the various ways in which trade unions have developed their democracy over the years. As a result, the vast majority of trade unions are truly accountable to their membership in a way that few organisations in this country can emulate.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that trade unions allow their members to see their financial dealings at their annual conferences and at other times, and that they make sure that whatever money is used in the union is used in a specific way and itemised? This weekend, Conservative Central Office was in turmoil because a new group has been set up within the party — called Charter, or something—which is launching a campaign to allow the membership to see the books. It is bordering on the hypocrisy to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred earlier for the Conservative party to refuse to allow its members to see the books — something that trade union members have always been able to do.
That is not the only problem that the Minister has had to deal with. I shall come back to that point, because it is an excellent one. The Minister had many distractions throughout the Committee stage. He had a running battle with the BBC "Panorama" programme, although I think his complaint has now been relegated to the bottom of the pile in some users' consultative committee. Apart from that problem, the Minister had people sniping at him from one section or other of the Young Conservatives or the Right wing of his party. It is amazing that he managed to turn up at all.
The Minister was continually embarrassed by the openness of trade unions about their activities and finances. As my hon. Friend rightly said, detailed financial reports are made by British trade unions and there is tight statutory control over their political funds. One can find much of the information in the annual reports of the certification officer which are there for all to read—unlike the Conservative party, which is singularly reticent in its annual accounts about where its money comes from or goes to. The Social Democratic party and the Liberal party are both showing signs of the same lack of candour in their financial affairs. They all demand high standards of others, although they do not apply those high standards to themselves.
My hon. Friend reminds me of another matter—the high standard of integrity that exists in the management of trade union affairs in this country. In some parts of the world there is corruption not only in business but in trade unions. We in this country have been remarkably free from such corruption. Too little tribute is paid either to the full-time officers or to the lay members of trade unions, without whom the unions could not function. They show high standards of integrity, honesty and commitment in carrying out their affairs.
We should be proud of the British trade union movement. We should not take the opportunity, as this Government have done, to roll in a political gutter, trying to make cheap political points at the expense of the trade union movement. The first task of a Secretary of State for Employment should be to try to understand the trade union movement and to work with it to achieve economic progress. Instead of that, both the present Secretary of State and his predecessor have indulged in an unprecedented legal attack on the righs, principles and functions of British trade unions in our democratic society.
What has been hardest of all to take is that somehow the Secretary of State and his predecessor know better than the British trade unionists how to run the trade unions democratically. We believe that the members of free and independent trade unions should decide their constitutions for themselves, without any help from Government or Parliament. The same should be true of every other organisation in the country. The affairs of other organisations, of perhaps greater economic importance than the British trade unions, are not regulated by statute, but, somehow, the affairs of British trade unions have to be specially regulated by people who in the internal affairs of their party do not carry out the principles of democracy that they urge for others.
The new clause seeks to put the matter fairly and squarely to the members of trade unions. We accept that if those members vote to accept the Government's prescription, it would cease to be the Government's prescription and would become their own choice. However, they may refuse to accept the Government's prescription and say, "We do not want a Government-imposed, state-controlled regulation of our free and independent trade unions. We want to maintain our traditions of democracy and our constitution that we continually develop." Rules revision conferences are constantly held to update union constitutions—something of which Conservative Members have little idea. That is what happens when trade union members adjust their constitutions to new industrial or political circumstances. They should be allowed to develop their organisations in their own way. That, surely, is the path of freedom. This Bill offers the path of Government regulation and compulsion. The Labour party asserts the right of trade unions to make up their own minds about their own affairs.
We welcome to this further consideration of the Bill those hon. Members who did not have the privilege of being with us in Committee to debate these important issues. May I say, as an entirely impartial observer, that while this matter has been represented by the Opposition as a total attack on the fundamental rights of all trade unions, and bearing in mind the number of Labour Members who are sponsored by trade unions, it would not appear from the attendance that that view is shared by all Opposition Members.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) told his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), following his intervention, that his point had been made before in Committee. May I point out to the hon. Member for Walsall, North that almost anything that he may say on the new clause and amendments has been said endlessly in Committee. We spent 70 hours debating these issues, and I am almost inclined to award a small personal prize to any hon. Member who, in this discussion, finds something new to say on the matter. This is a direct re-run of a discussion that we had under a variety of amendments in Committee.
I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's skills as an advocate. No matter how lousy the case, he always impresses me. He has managed to wind himself up yet again to attack what he has asserted to be a fundamental assault on all freedoms. It was noticeable in Committee, and it impressed impartial observers such as me, that while Conservative Members, for whose support I was grateful, had a close practical experience of trade union activities and members, one or two Labour Members with a legal or educational background had not been closely involved in industrial unions. Even they realised that, while the procedures in many unions are of a high order— as anybody with any knowledge of unions and industry knows very well — there is a tremendous variety in standards between some which pursue democratic procedures and some which, by any standards, fall a long way short of them.
The point at issue is whether the Labour party is really proposing to deny the right to vote in properly conducted elections to a range of union members in Britain. I hope that it is common ground that unions are important institutions in this land. If that is so, I would go on to assert that, because of the structure of a modern industrial society, their conduct can have significant effects on the life, comfort and well-being of their fellow citizens. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assert that certain minimum standards should obtain in the leadership elections of those unions.
Labour Members have presented the Bill as a detailed interference in the affairs of individual unions. Anybody who bothers to stop and read the Bill will find that behind the rhetoric that does not begin to be the case. The Bill, as members of the Committee will know best of all, is based on certain elementary principles of democracy. It is based on the right of people to mark a paper to register their vote. I am not sure who would oppose that. It is based on the right of people to vote without interference or constraint, to have a voting paper supplied to them, to have a fair and convenient opportunity to vote at no cost, in secret, and to have those votes fairly counted. That is the sum total of what is taken to be gross interference in the democratic procedures of British trade unions. The reaction of many of the public would not be outrage at this gross imposition on decent honest men and women but amazement that those conditions do not already exist in trade unions.
I have the honour to hold a senior lay position in a trade union. I am vice-president of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff which was formed in 1890. I am not a sponsored Member. Ever since my union came into existence we have had an annual conference and every four or five years we have a rules revision conference at which we deal with amendments and motions of various kinds relating to the internal way in which we run our affairs, including alternative systems of voting. What is undemocratic about that? What is undemocratic about a system that has existed in my union now for 94 years, whereby delegates at annual and rules revision conferences decide how to go about our business? Should we be told by the Government what system of internal voting to adopt? What is undemocratic about the system that operates in APEX?
I shall come to both those points. One concerns how conference delegates are chosen and whether they are elected at branch meetings. I understand that they are. The hon. Gentleman's second point concerned the ease or otherwise of changing rules at rules revision conferences. I shall deal with those points in order. I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman confirms that they are germane to his intervention.
I have set out to the House, perhaps to the surprise of some, just how limited is what we are proposing in these minimum standards for democracy. I recognise that there are many who criticise the Government, not for being too interventionist but for not adequately meeting what they think are some of the abuses that take place in some elections at present. I hope that shows the moderation and good sense of our approach.
It might shake the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East if I were to accept his new clause. That might be one of the most embarrassing things that could happen to the trade union movement, for reasons that I shall shortly give. It would embarrass the unions if they had the chance to vote about whether they were entitled to a secret vote at a convenient opportunity and without interference or restraint.
Does not the Secretary of State realise that the new clause would incorporate all those desirable characteristics, such as having ballot papers? It also gives what the Bill otherwise does not give — a chance to union members to say whether they will accept the Government's prescription. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make such a concession, it would be accepted with joy by Labour Members, although with some surprise.
Having tantalised the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have to say that I do not propose to accept the new clause or the amendments.
After I have concluded my few brief remarks and before my hon. Friend the Minister of State, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has replied to this important debate on what I take to be a central issue in part I, I hope that hon. Members will address their minds to the question why people should not have an opportunity to vote in secret at a convenient opportunity for those who actually take the effective decisions on the running of their union. That is the obligation that they have, because the new clause seeks somehow to diminish the impact of giving people that fair and minimum opportunity.
We believe — this is why I am resisting the new clause and the amendments—that part I is the minimum that should be applicable to all British trade unions. I do not presume to advise Labour Members or even the trade unions, which may have expressed certain views through them, but it is unfortunate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has sought to table this new clause and to seek publicly to be seen to oppose what to many people in Britain — the vast majority of people and the vast majority of trade unions—is exactly what people would expect and would consider to be a reasonable approach. It is clear that he will be seen to be opposing the proper extension of that democracy, which is already enshrined in the practices of the best established trade unions, and the wish to see that more widely established.
If Labour Members think that they have popular support, I must draw their attention to the fact that in the general election 60 per cent. of the country voted for parties which supported a secret ballot for the election of governing bodies of trade unions. I know that somebody will jump up and say that that does not prove anything because a mandate covers a wide range of different items. One might then be influenced by the fact that as recently as last September a MORI poll — which Labour Members occasionally believe has some validity—took a poll of trade unionists and found that 83 per cent. wanted a secret ballot for election to senior trade union office. Therefore, once again the Opposition are backing a cause that is profoundly unwise.
The Government made it clear that the proposal involves the deliberate avoidance of detailed intervention in the particular rules of individual trade unions. We sought to do that as we recognised in advance the difficulties of prescribing in great detail for individual unions. On the grounds of principle and practice it would be wrong, and, therefore, we decided not to accept the new clause. It would be wrong if some unions could opt out of the provisions. I should like an hon. Member to tell me which of the conditions unions should be entitled to opt out of. I shall be interested to hear that answer.
Amendment No. 23 also effectively allows different unions to opt out of these requirements, and, therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) who has tabled the amendment, will explain the general election alliance manifesto. It included a commitment to legislate for compulsory, secret, individual ballots for national executives. However, there appears to have been an error in its drafting because it did say that it would include some unions but not all. Has the alliance resiled from that manifesto commitment?
The argument most frequently deployed in Committee was- the- there was no need for reform. Questions were asked and answers given frequently on that matter. It is right that the House should hear that argument. The hon. Member for Walsall, North in his intervention referred to
branch meetings. He will be familiar with the Donovan report and know how long ago it was when, drawing on the experience of many years, it stated:
In many unions polls are low because voting in all elections continues to take place at branch meetings, although the focus of union activity has now shifted from the branch to the work place. To conduct elections at branch meetings in such circumstances is virtually to ensure a low poll. Some alternative method must be found by these unions if more members are to be persuaded to vote
The 1980 workplace industrial relations survey showed that little had changed since the Donovan report. It found that the average number of members who attended branch meetings was 30 from an average of 438 — an attendance of 7 per cent.; that where the branch covered employees from more than one employer attendance was usually lower—about 3 per cent; and that for several branches with about 4,000 members the average attendance was 10, which is 0·25 per cent.
Some hon. Members must feel that that is not an adequate sample of electorate at branch elections. Not to mince words, it is an outrage and a travesty of democracy, especially when some arrangements made for the branch meeting positively reinforce the Donovan report's conclusions about the difficulties that such a method represents. When the hon. Member for Walsall, North asks me whether it is democratic for his union to continue with a system of branch meetings to elect delegates and whether I am happy about that, I must say that the experience of all those wise men on the Donovan commission contradicts that.
Some hon. Members say that there is no need for reform, but it is interesting to note that despite all the criticisms of the branch meetings, a number of the largest unions — including the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff, the Association of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section), the Confederation of Health Service Employees, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, the National Union of Public Employees, the National Union of Railwaymen, the Society of Graphical and Allied Technicians, the Transport and General Workers Union, the Union of Construction and Allied Trades Technicians and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—still elect some or all of their executive members at branch meetings.
My criticisms of branch meetings are directed to ensure that they achieve the minimum standards. I shall not cover the ground which was much trampled on by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I listened to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East talking about the splendid traditions of reporting back to branch meetings. They are splendid in some unions, for which I have the greatest admiration, but I wonder how splendid they are in some aspects of ASTMS. About 400 branches, which is almost 50 per cent. of the total, either did not vote in any of the elections for their own union leaders or registered a nil return in them all. The president was elected with 10,000 votes cast from a membership of 427,000 — just over 2 per cent. of the total ASTMS membership. In the elections for the 16 divisional seats on the executive, 7,000 members voted — 1·7 per cent. Therefore, I wonder whether the reporting back to branches is satisfactory.
It is not only branch voting that gives rise to great public concern about the efficacy of the operation of trade union democracy in some unions. Another unsatisfactory aspect is that the new clause and the amendment of the hon. Member for Truro would allow union members to be invited to vote to keep the block vote of the branch. Mr. Sid Weighell illustrated the case where 10 people turn up to a branch meeting, and six vote in favour of one candidate and four vote against him. If there are 300 members, those six votes can be converted into 300 unanimous votes in favour of the candidate. A number of major unions still preserve the block vote.
The basic standards that we have set out are the minimum for democracy. I do not wish to repeat myself, because that is a disease we all contract when debating the Bill. The arguments are simple, which is probably why there has been considerable repetition. The minimum standards that have been set are the minimum that the public are entitled to expect. Unions are important institutions and their behaviour is not exclusively private and personal to them. It affects the lives and well-being of fellow citizens. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for the minimum standards to apply.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North raised a question about rules revision. In the experience of many people it can be a slow and painful business and can demand incredible dedication from those involved in what is almost a lifetime's work to achieve the necessary rules revision. The most tragic illustration of that is the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. It conducted a survey of its 60,000 members. The response, which was given to the executive and the delegates before they took their decision, was that 94 per cent. of their 60,000 members were in favour of strike ballots. Yet the delegate conference, knowing that the federation had conducted the survey and knowing the results, threw out that proposal. The general secretary of the IRSF, Mr. Christopher, said:
if the motion is lost we shall sadly have given the lie
to the statement
that trade unions can deal with their own democracy
It is against that background that the Government feel entitled to put the proposals in the Bill before the House.
I have made it clear that we recognise that many unions have established very good standards of democracy, but we are entitled to maintain, with considerable evidence in our support and with considerable public support, that there are others for which minimum standards need to be established. That is precisely what the Bill will do.
I shared with the Minister of State, but only marginally with the Secretary of State, the experience of the Committee stage of the Bill. The Secretary of State is right to say that it is not likely that we shall find much fresh evidence or arguments to put on Report. Of all the Committees that I have served on in my many years in the House, I do not recall any other that examined a Bill so carefully and meticulously as did the Committee on this Bill.
We needed to do that, because the Bill was being taken through Committee by Ministers who had little or no experience of trade union affairs and who relied almost entirely on not merely a trickle or stream but a veritable Niagara of hastily scribbled memoranda passed to them, at intervals of roughly 30 seconds, by their Civil Service advisers.
Therefore, Opposition Members had to bring to bear their practical knowledge and experience of trade union affairs. That resulted in the careful examination of the Bill —which, as the Secretary of State said, does not leave a great deal for us to say. However, it is desirable that some hon. Members who did not share the experience of the Committee should have the opportunity of giving their views during the remaining stages of the Bill. It is also desirable that in the Chamber, where our proceedings are more widely reported than the proceedings in any Committee, we should deploy the arguments against the Bill and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has done, expose the real intentions of the Government.
This is the third trade union Bill since 1979, and those Bills are the second part of a broad campaign by the Government to weaken and shackle the trade union movement. The first part of the campaign was the Government's action in rapidly increasing unemployment. The Government calculated—successfully, I fear—that nothing is more inclined to weaken the militancy of the trade union movement than the fear of those still in a job that they may be the next in the dole queue. I do not believe that the Government could have introduced and pushed through those Bills as readily as they have but for their deliberate weakening of the fibre and spirit of the trade union movement by the creation of a division between those in work and those out of work.
I was a member of the principal executive committee of my union for more than 30 years. Perhaps that entitles me to say that I have a little more experience of these matters than the Secretary of State and the Minister of State put together. I do not recall a single month, other than two periods of illness, in all those 30 years when I did not report to one or more branches of the union on my activities as an executive member.
Of course there are low ballots in trade unions; there are low ballots in all institutions. The world is full of willing people—a few are willing to work and the rest are willing to let them. That is true of the House, of political parties, of rotary clubs, of trade unions and of all other institutions. It is always a handful of dedicated people who do the work.
Democracy is not measured by how many people vote. It is measured by people having the right, opportunity and facility to vote, but also by the acceptance of those who are elected of their duty to hold themselves accountable to the people who elected them.
The Secretary of State referred to ASTMS. I do not think that he is quite as obsessed with that union as is the Minister of State, who no doubt wakes up screaming about ASTMS in the middle of the night. I remind the Secretary of State that a majority of, the members of the principal executive committee of ASTMS are elected as representatives of each of the 16 divisions of the union. That is the way that members want it, but presumably we shall not be able to have that system if the Bill reaches the statute book.
At every monthly meeting of every divisional council there is on the agenda a report by the council's executive member. The executive member reports back. If he does not, he will have little chance of being re-elected. That accountability and the acceptance of the duty to give an account of one's stewardship are part of democracy.
Executive council members realise that they are not like a fairy godmother bestowing benefits on the poor citizenry or a god descending from Olympus to have a word with the mortals running over the foothills. Reporting back is part of an executive council member's solemn duty to be accountable to those who chose him. That is real democracy, and that is what goes on.
The Secretary of State also referred to the difficulty of getting rules revisions. I chaired six annual delegate conferences of my union, including one that was entirely devoted to rules revisions. Many hundreds of amendments were tabled and dozens were carried. I do not recall anyone at any annual delegate conference experiencing any difficulty in getting a motion on the order paper to amend one or more of the rules of the union. Nor do I recall anyone having any difficulty in moving, supporting, opposing or debating any motion. I also do not recall a majority of those who were present experiencing the least difficulty in carrying such an amendment, sometimes against the wishes of the executive committee, to have alterations made in the rule book of the union. In my period of service in the union, the rules had to be reprinted more than a dozen times, and maybe more than 20 times, because of the many changes to rule that were made in that period.
The Minister of State characteristically got all uptight about his somewhat equivocal role as the unelected chairman of the Conservative party, lecturing the trade unions on practices of democracy. I should have thought that the Secretary of State, who has more brains in his boots than the Minister of State has in his head, would have been very careful to stay off that piece of thin ice. Of course it is nonsense for the Conservative party to lecture the trade unions, or anyone else, on the practices of democracy.
On this subject, I wish to quote from a document prepared not by members of the Labour party but by members of the Conservative party. A group of members of the Conservative party produced what is called in the party the SPF charter—for "set the party free". This is a bunch of people in the Conservative party who think that, before the right hon. Gentleman goes about the task of setting the trade unions free, he ought to begin his charity at home and set the party free. The right hon. Gentleman might care to contrast what this group of members of the Conservative party said with his animadversions this afternoon about, and against, the trade union movement:
All significant decisions in the Conservative Party are taken at a level that is far too remote from the bulk of its membership. The membership of the Party has little if any say in such decisions nor, virtually in any instance, in the people who make the decisions on their behalf. This is true of policy, organisation and finance and, very often, in the selection of candidates to represent them on public bodies.
As to the difficulty that the trade unions experience in amending the rules, this is what members of the Conservative party say about their own party:
There is no mechanism by which any of this can be changed. There are no rules governing the arrangement and therefore no provision for changing the arrangement.
On this point, I want to quote an authority even weightier than members of the Conservative party. I want to quote the judgment of a court. In August 1980, an appeal was made by Conservative Central Office against a tax assessment. In its judgment, which is set out in full in the "All England Law Reports", 19 August 1980, the court said:
All the appointment(s) of the principal officers of Central Office are made by the Leader, and it is to the Leader that they are responsible. The evidence shows that the Central Office works under the direction of the party Leader and that the party Leader can direct how the moneys under the control of the Central Office are to be spent. It is a constant theme throughout the evidence that neither the national union nor the constituency associations have any control over those moneys.
Those are the people who are telling the trade union movement how to be democratic and who are seeking, in part III of the Bill, to intervene in the ways in which the moneys of the trade union movement are built up and how they are controlled by its members.
There is one outstanding point about the new clause that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East has moved. Anybody without a Notice Paper who listened to what the Secretary of State said would have concluded that the argument between the two sides of the House concerned whether to have a ballot, that the Government are calling for a ballot, with the Opposition refusing to have a ballot. In fact, the new clause is tabled to demand a ballot: that is the reason for its inclusion.
The new clause says:
(1) Part I of this Act shall not apply to any trade union the members of which have in a ballot
In other words, the clause is saying, "Let us have a ballot of members to decide whether they want this part of the Bill to operate." If that is not calling for a ballot, I do not know what is. I fancy that the Secretary of State has lost his capacity to understand plain English. Of course, the clause calls specifically for a ballot.
I repeat what I said earlier. No one listening to the Secretary of State would have dreamed that he was opposing a clause which is calling for a ballot, but that is precisely what he is doing. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, this is an acid test of the genuineness of the Government in claiming that the objective of the Bill is to give the unions back to their members, because, if that were the objective, there could be no conceivable case against accepting the new clause.
The plain fact of the matter is that the Government are in favour of trade unions which are free and independent and which can make up their own minds on how they run themselves, and they are in favour of trade unions that are not subject to Government control—as long as those unions are in Poland, not in Great Britain. I fancy that the Secretary of State knew what a feeble rejoinder he was making.
The great trouble with the Government is that they are no longer performing well. They have been vitiated by the size of their majority. They come to the Dispatch Box shrugging their shoulders and say, "Never mind what we say, it does not matter if the chaps on the other side have a better case; in the end the hordes will come rolling into the Lobby, so why should we worry?" I think that that is the impression that the Secretary of State would have given today to any impartial observer. He made a very thin case, and, since he made such a thin case, I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend should have the support of the House.
I was among those who spent many hours in Committee listening to the debate on the Bill. It seemed like an eternity at the time. How readily the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) has reminded us of that eternity. I listened to some 70 hours or more of debate in Committee. The main theme behind the argument that has come from the Labour Benches is the proposition that unions can best be left to look after their own constitution, and, in so doing, will not cause unfairness to their members. That proposition underlies their opposition to all parts of the Bill and was repeated many times.
It is important to test that now in the light of current circumstances and the words used in Committee. I remind the House of two speeches in Committee. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said that the Government
base their arguments upon the absurd proposition that trade union officials and leaders are power-crazy barons who are always dragging their reluctant members out on strike. Anyone who knows anything about industrial relations whether on the management or on the union side—I have spoken to many on both—would say that this was an absurd caricature and that the opposite was true. In many cases, workers want to go on strike and the trade union bureaucracy acts to make them pause and consider before committing the union's funds."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 7 February 1984; c. 962.]
The union held as the paragon of virtue in terms of democracy was the National Union of Mineworkers.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is in the Chamber, because I want to quote from what he said in Committee. He said that the Minister
has mentioned the NUM from time to time. That union is held up in this place as an example to the trade union movement. I am not talking about the president; he does what the membership tells him to do."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 14 February 1984; c. 1084.]
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has described examples of how trade unions have in the past mismanaged their constitutions to the detriment of their members. I want to examine the basic Opposition theme in the context of the current action by the NUM. The Labour party argued that a union's constitution is safe in the hands of the union executive and that it is for its members to decide how to run the union. If that is so, it will stand the test of examining what is now happening in the NUM.
The overwhelming public recognition of what is happening is that the NUM executive and its president have used every conceivable constitutional loophole to avoid referring to their members and accepting their democratic judgment about whether to go out on strike. In the context of the new clause, it is interesting to examine the device by which the executive has procured that end. The union's national constitution calls clearly for a ballot on a national strike. The executive has used the regional structure and committees to break the union action down on a regional basis—[Interruption.]—I can see that I am touching a sensitive nerve — because precisely in that way—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not have raised a point of order, but the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) has been unaccountably rude. The hon. Member is addressing his remarks to a different part of the Bill from that which we are discussing. Another part of the Bill deals specifically with strikes and strike balloting, but the hon. Gentleman is discussing that now. He has just referred to a ballot on a strike by NUM members. Would it not be in the best interests of good order if the hon. Gentleman made his speech on the new clause to which it is relevant?
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for underlining my point, which is that some trade unions will use their constitutions to manipulate their membership. That lies at the heart of the current dispute. That is as relevant to part I of the Bill as it is to part II. No doubt it will be referred to on many occasions, although I am sure that the Opposition would like to avoid the issue. In truth, there can be no reasonable doubt that the one and only reason why there has not been a national ballot by the NUM is that the executive would not like the result. Instead, we have seen manipulations, the refusal to recall the executive, and the use of intimidation against regions which have balloted and come out against the strike in order to push forward the views of the executive.
Perhaps the Secretary of State will allow me to continue without rudely interrupting me. The hon. Member for Elmet is complaining about strikes without union leaders obtaining the consent of members. That has nothing to do with part I of the Bill, which deals with ballots for the election of union officials. We shall make nonsense of the debate if we debate part II when we are supposed to be debating part I.
The nub of the Opposition case is that union constitutions can be left safely in the hands of the executives, without basic democratic, minimum safeguards being established by law. I say that the current action by the NUM shows that that is a false premise. It is false in relation to part I and it is false in relation to part II. The new clause tries to give trade unions the power to contract out of the legislation. It gives it to them in such wide terms that it will be open to blatant manipulation, as instanced by the NUM now. If anything has come out since the end of the Committee stage, in the light of what has happened in the mining industry, it is—
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East has already confused points of order with points of information. Perhaps he will allow me to continue my point and then I will give way. Far from seeking to give more freedom to the trade union executives, the Secretary of State must ensure that this legislation leaves no loopholes for those who seek to use the law and their constitutions to deny their basic democratic purposes. We must amend the Bill not to allow contracting out but to ensure that it prevents action to avoid trade union members taking their own decisions.
My contention is that the Bill should not provide a power to contract out but that the commitment to democracy should be built in, in relation to elections and strike action, in such terms that no president of a union can defy the wishes of his members. There is no provision in the employment protection legislation, for example, for general contracting out. I see no reason why there should be general contracting out in this Bill.
Is the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) aware that frequently in Committee Conservative Members referred with approval to the method of electing officials to the NUM? Is he aware that the NUM executive is largely elected in accordance with the scheme proposed by the Government in the Bill? What, therefore, is the relevance of his argument? On what conceivable basis can it be said to give the unions back to their members when the constitution proposed by the Government would be forced through against the wishes of, for example, 94 per cent. of the members? How are we giving unions back to the members if the members vote to reject the proposition?
The answer is simple. I sat through the Committee and listened to sponsored members of the NUM and others. From what I heard, I thought it inconceivable for us to have industrial action in the coal industry without a national ballot. I suspect that that was also the feeling of the members of that union, in overwhelming numbers.
If we cannot rely upon a union such as the National Union of Mineworkers, given its history, it is surely important for the Government to ensure that there is a framework in which are set out minimum standards of democracy within industrial relations.
The new clause seeks to substitute a good and workable democratic principle in place of the bad and unworkable one that is contained in the Bill. The clause seeks constitutional self-determination by trade union memberships instead of the rigid uniformity that the Government seek to impose. It seeks to replace coercion with consent and to establish that trade unions will have the right to decide for themselves what constitutional arrangements are most suitable for the running of their unions' affairs.
The Government have failed to make any case for the unilateral change that they seek to impose. They have not been able to substantiate any claim of widespread dissatisfaction—not in the Green Paper which preceded the Bill, not on Second Reading, not in Committee and not in the report of the Donovan commission, which studied trade unions' constitutions in depth and detail and to which the Secretary of State referred — or abuse that could justify the removal from trade unions of the right to decide their internal constitutions.
The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) sought to draw into the debate a discussion on part II instead of addressing himself to the issue before us, the election of trade union executives. He seems not to realise that the NUM's constitution conforms to all the established procedures that the Government seek to impose on other unions. The NUM's constitution is the model democracy that the Government speak of as representing the standards of the best and to which other unions must raise themselves. The Government have made no case for the proposed reforms. They could not tell us in Committee which unions would be affected by the Bill and to what extent.
The Government seem unaware that trade union members have had the right to vote and to a voice in their union's affairs for the past century. In one instance involving the British Dental Association, the Minister could not tell us which executive committee would be affected by the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State referred to a major section of one of the largest trade unions as being composed of boiler builders. It can well be said that the Government have opted for change without seeking to understand the complexity, diversity and essential democracy of the trade union movement. The Government have made no attempt to seek the views of trade unionists on any proposal for reform. The Government's approach to this proposed legislation is no more than ignorance tempered by malice.
If the Government do not accept the reasonableness of the clause, they are effectively saying that for them there is only one form of democracy and that there can be only one rigid, blanket and uniform test of what democracy is to be. Ministers are saying that democracy is in some way undermined if a regional or trades committee of a trade union elects representatives to sit on the union's national executive committee. They are saying that democracy is somehow imperilled if a branch of a trade union meets and votes for representatives to sit on an executive committee. The Government are saying that democracy ceases to exist when the annual conference of a trade union elects members to its executive committee.
In other words, for this Government, any collective decision-making process in which 200–300 or 2,000 or 3,000 union members gather to make decisions can be described as undemocratic.
The Secretary of State has said that the standards of the worst must be raised to those of the best. It is surprising that the best, in his view, are the NUM and the constructional section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, which comply exactly with the form of constitution that the right hon. Gentleman wants to impose on all other unions. The trade unions that are furthest away from the Government's test of democracy are professional and staff associations such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Air Line Pilots Association, so beloved of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. These organisations elect most of their executive members at their annual conferences. They will have to make fundamental changes to their constitutional procedures, which were previously acceptable to their memberships.
In Committee, the Minister of State had the audacity to brand as rotten boroughs some of the largest and longest-established unions. He included the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the National Union of Railwaymen and the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union. If the Minister of State is to get away with labelling UCATT as a rotten borough because it elects its executives by votes at special branch meetings—a perfectly democratic procedure until the introduction of the Bill—is he not saying also that the Association of Principals of Colleges, the Federation of Sub-Postmasters, the Bank of England Staff Association, the Cadbury-Schweppes Managers Association and many other professional associations, all of which elect their executives in a similar way, are rotten boroughs?
If USDAW is to be called a rotten borough, the same description must be applied to the National League of the Blind and Disabled, which elects its executives in exactly the same way. Again, it was a perfectly proper procedure until the introducion of the Bill.
If GMBATU is to be labelled a rotten borough, so must the Headmasters Conference, which adopts exactly the same procedures. The majority of trade unions, professional associations, staff associations and all associations that are registered as trade unions will have to accept changes imposed upon them unilaterally for no other reason than the Government's blind prejudice.
I shall try to summarise the history of the Green Paper and the Bill. Abuses which did not exist have had to be invented. The abuses which the Government imagined led to the ultimatum that appeared in the Green Paper. It was stated that the abuses must cease and that dictatorial powers would be assumed by the Government if they did not. The ultimatum in the Green Paper has expired and the Government are saying that their patience is exhausted. As a result, the constitutional arrangements of nearly 500 unions are to be overturned. All this is to be done in the name of democracy. For the purposes of the Bill, democracy is only what the Government say it is; it cannot be anything else.
Why should the trade union movement take lessons in democracy from the unelected chairman of the Conservative party, from a man with a grace-and-favour appointment? Why should it take lessons from a Minister who in his political utterances is no more than his mistress's voice? Why should the trade unions take lessons on democracy from a party that first elected its leader 100 years after trade unions started electing theirs, and whose annual conferences were held for a century without a vote ever being permitted? Even now, the highest form of participation at a Conservative party conference is the standing ovation.
There is a small and declining body of Conservatives called the Association of Conservative Trade Unionists. Is the executive of that body elected directly by its members? Is it not the case that the chairman and executive members of the association are elected indirectly by votes from the constituencies of the Conservative party and by votes from the regions? Is it not the case that the secretary of the association is hired and fired—he was fired in 1979—on the decision of only one person, the leader of the Conservative party?
The Bill, if left unamended, will do more than undermine established principles of democratic diversity. Indeed, it has another, more sinister, purpose which we seek to correct. The unions are not to be handed back to their members; rather, they are to be handed to the courts.
If a sole union member finds the venue for, or timing of, an election inconvenient; if he does not receive a ballot form, for whatever reason; if he wants his bus or rail fare or car expenses refunded when he casts his vote—this is not provided for in parliamentary or local elections but is to be imposed on the trade union movement — that individual, irrespective of any support or the lack of it, will be encouraged to bring an action in the courts—indeed, to bring as many actions as possible and as often as possible—to seek to have that election declared null and void.
Why, in their imposition of such constitutional constraints on the trade union movement, have the Government sought to go so far beyond the law governing even parliamentary and local elections? Surely what is good enough for parliamentary and local government electors is good enough for electors in the trade union movement. Why should union members be encouraged by this ill-considered legislation—which even its supporters admitted in the Green Paper was conducive to mischievous applications to the courts — to become embroiled in litigation which, from the wording of the Bill, must be vexatious?
There can be no innocent purpose to the Bill. What the Conservatives have failed to achieve through the activities of a small and diminishing band of Tory members in the unions they now seek to achieve by a measure which will promote and propagate vexatious litigation.
There is no evidence that trade union members would prefer Government-imposed constitutions to the arrangements that have evolved during the last century, along with the freedom that exists to change those arrangements should union members desire change. To impose one constitution on the 18 members of the Cloth Pressers Society and on the 1·5 million members of the Transport and General Workers Union is to dictate an inflexible and utterly irrational uniformity.
To tell 11 million trade unionists in Britain that they can vote only under terms and conditions laid down by the state is to treat them as though they have not fully reached the age of consent. To insist, for the first time in our industrial history, that trade unions vote only within, but not about, their constitutions is to narrow the scope of democracy and to attempt to reduce a century of diverse and democratic tradition in Britain to the truncated and sterile politics of the bantustan.
The House should suport our proposals as a first step on the road back to sanity in our industrial affairs, so enabling the unions to do their job and represent their members.
I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee. I agree with the Secretary of State that little that is new can be said on the issue, and we have so far heard little that is new from Opposition Members.
We have heard about numerous rule books, about theoretical problems and about the way in which unions regularly change their rules. Opposition Members have such a weak case that on many occasions in Committee we had to be given a geographical tour of various parts of the country, including Yorkshire, Scotland and south Wales, because they had run out of a clear point of view to put.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has put the Opposition case with his usual flair. As usual when the argument is weak, the irrelevancies are laid on even stronger. One might have got the impression that the provisions of clause 1 were totally different from those described by Labour Members. Indeed, throughout our deliberations, there has appeared to be no relationship between their arguments and the wording of the measure.
Part I of the Bill says that every voting member of a principal executive committee of a union should hold office only by virtue of having been elected at an election. What objection could there possibly be to that? It goes on to say that no person should remain such a member for more than five years without being re-elected at an election. That was a major plank in the campaign at the last general election and it resulted in the Conservatives being re-elected.
The reform of trade union voting procedures. It is a moderate and democratic proposal, but the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East —who has fled the Chamber—was wrong in what he said, for the Bill is designed to give the trade unions back to the membership by ensuring that the leadership keeps in touch with the membership by regular elections.
The hon. Gentleman should not make such sneering remarks about my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who has been in his place for two hours but who has had to leave on an important errand. I might have referred to the Secretary of State having fled the Chamber some time ago.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that irrelevant intervention. I was simply pointing out that it was a pity that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not in his place while I was commenting on a point that he had made.
Opposition Members have made so many legal points that one by Lord Denning, in summing up the changed position of trade unions, is apposite. He is reported as having said:
In the nineteenth century they were persecuted and oppressed: in the twentieth they have 'exploited their immunities beyond measure'.
There must be reform because the trade unions are large, rich and powerful institutions within society and, as the Secretary of State pointed out, they are vital to an industrial society. However, they are privileged members of society and the public demand that they conduct their affairs in a correct and proper manner. They must command respect and confidence, among both their members and the general public.
Many trade unions do that. For those which do not, the law must be reformed to make them do so. We have heard today, as we heard in Standing Committee, of virtues of the NUM, but we cannot fail to be aware of what has happened in that union of late; a national ballot has not taken place.
We in this country pride ourselves on being a democracy; the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) spoke about that at length. The Labour party professes a great belief in democracy. We on these Benches believe equally strongly in democracy. There have been too many irrelevancies from Opposition Members about the whole issue of democracy.
We elect representatives to this House for a maximum of five years. How can the Opposition claim that elections to the principal executive committees of unions on a similar basis are wrong? Do they expect the public to believe what they say? Further, how can anyone disagree with the election by the membership of a union of people to serve on the executive committee of that union? We hear constant irrelevancies from Opposition Members as they try to camouflage the weakness of their case.
The point to remember is that the provisions of the Bill are not practised by all unions in Britain. In other words, not all unions have implemented the proposed procedures. They had ample opportunity to discuss the matter with the Government, but they chose not to do so. There is a stark disparity of attitude between trade union members and their leaders. The leaders have in many cases led the members in a direction which they have not wanted to take, and the members have not had the opportunity of a proper say. We have heard about the situation at the Inland Revenue; the members wanted one thing and the trade union leaders did not allow them to have it. That cannot be right.
It is the responsibility of any Government representing all the people to change the law. The Bill is an attempt to make the trade unions more democratic and responsible for their actions. Nothing will keep trade union leaders in touch with their membership more effectively than a reelection system whereby they must put their record before their electorate every five years, or more frequently if they so wish. We heard in Committee how Mr. Scargill was elected for life. I accept that the NUM has now changed that, and no doubt the membership is very grateful. Nevertheless, the unions have not reformed themselves as they should have done. The Conservative party put forward its proposals at the general election and a Conservative Government were re-elected. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, 60 per cent. of the people who voted cast their votes in favour of parties seeking trade union reform. That reform is now proposed in a democratic spirit.
I have two questions for the hon. Gentleman. First, is he aware that in my 30-odd years as an elected member of the executive of a union I had to stand for re-election every two years, not every five years? Why does he assume that without the Bill people will be on their executives without standing for re-election? Secondly, I believe that the hon. Gentleman is a Lloyd's underwriter. Will he tell the House how often the management committee of Lloyd's comes up for reelection?
If the hon. Gentleman is re-elected every two years, I am amazed that he should object to a proposed maximum of five years. It is clear that he and his union support that part of the Bill as they support the membership keeping in regular touch with its officials in that way. We applaud that, but in some unions it does not happen. Many members in that particular union have found that they do not have such opportunities—
I cannot answer half a dozen points at the same time.
The other matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) is utterly irrelevant to the Bill. Most Opposition Members have been discussing irrelevancies, which shows the weakness of their case.
Of course I had no intention of impugning your conduct of the Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Bill deals with trade union elections and how often they should be held. We are not discussing any other matters and I have no intention of going down a dead end that is irrelevant to the matter before us.
That has been debated at length in Committee. Contrary to the belief of some Opposition Members, I have been a member of a trade union—the National Union of Teachers—although that union has not featured regularly in our debates.
I am amazed that the Opposition believe that a once-for-all ballot can possibly be democratic, as they now propose. It is incredible to suggest that a once-in-a-lifetime ballot of all members is democratic, when we all know that membership changes not just from decade to decade but from year to year as people enter and leave a particular sector of the labour market.
The proposal to which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have put their names suggests that unions should be allowed to opt out of the legislation after a once-for-all ballot. That is unacceptable and undemocratic. That is why there has been so much bluster by the Opposition to divert attention from the real issue. They do not want it to get out that they do not believe that the five-year regular ballot which is good enough for Parliament is also good enough for the trade unions. They do not want people to realise that, so they are proposing a once-for-all ballot, which we cannot possibly accept.
I believe that there is a better case for the Government's proposals than has been made by either of the two Conservative Back Benchers who have spoken so far. I believe that there is considerable justification for the Government's general attempt, although we have tabled an amendment proposing that unions should be able to waive the obligations of this part of the Bill for a period of five years if a secret postal ballot of all members expresses satisfaction with the current arrangements governing the membership and selection of the principal executive committee. If that amendment were passed and the Bill became law, the provisions now in the Bill would cover the vast majority of cases but members could, if they so desired, opt out of the provisions by means of a five-yearly postal ballot.
Before explaining why I seek to convince the House of that, I will first give some background to the argument. I believe that there is some basic justification for the thrust of the Government's proposals on this. Unions, by their very nature, are run by activists who, by their very nature, are not necessarily typical of the members whom they seek to represent. I have found that to be the reality and I suspect that many other hon. Members have found the same.
Given the number of party members who wish me to pursue matters such as site value rating in the House, I suspect that it may well be true. I note that I have the backing of my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) on that.
Activists in British trade unions sometimes show an enthusiasm for strike action that is not typical of their members — indeed, we are in the midst of such a situation now — and they often show a militancy not typical of their members. The most well-documented instance is the fact that the politics of many activists in some of the big unions are not typical of the membership at large. One has only to consider the number of Communist party members who hold powerful union positions and contrast that with the voting behaviour of the membership in democratic general elections to realise that something slightly peculiar is happening.
The general thrust of the Government's proposals would give the membership an opportunity to change the executive, to elect new members and to throw people off, which the present system denies them. In general, part I is justifiable, and its general thrust has my support.
It is a valid point—the Government have not replied to this matter—that people, who have given their lives to trade unions and do a phenomenal amount of outstanding work for the union members, do not believe that the mass membership of their union is anything other than totally satisfied with the way the executive is currently elected. That point is often put to me, and it was expressed a great deal in Committee. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) is a good example of a respected trade unionist who has for a considerable period made that argument vigorously and consistently.
I do not see why the Government cannot accept my modest amendment, given their enthusiasm for democracy and their justification for this legislation and the fact that the amendment insists on giving the grass roots membership of the union what they want. I suspect that, if my amendment were accepted, the resultant change would be small. If the members of the Transport and General Workers Union and many other large unions were given the chance to say that they wanted a direct say in electing their executives, the unions might well grant that opportunity. I may be wrong, but I do not see why we are insisting, by statute, that unions shall elect their members in this manner, if it can be demonstrated in secret ballot that that is not what the union members want. That is a key point.
I cannot go as far as the Labour party amendment does, because it would mean a one-off ballot. The opportunity for such a ballot might never arise if, in a particular month, the union's mood was against holding that ballot. Under my amendment, unions could maintain their present arrangements if at five-yearly intervals they demonstrated in a secret postal ballot that the membership was satisfied with those arrangements.
The imposition of the Government's schemes may—I put it no stronger than that—cause a degree of militant and politicised elections within some of the smaller unions. I do not believe that the Government are trying to encourage those aspects.
I have been impressed by some of the representations of some of the smaller professional unions that the imposition of this measure will be detrimental. No Conservative Member or, I suspect, Opposition Member would criticise the way such unions function. I am not saying to Conservative Members that I basically reject the Government's arguments on part Ito give all trade union members an opportunity to vote in electing their executives. I am saying merely — at least one Conservative Member argued against this proposal—that the satisfaction of the mass membership of unions with the present arrangements, as shown at five-yearly intervals, should take precedence over the provisions of part I. That is a modest request to make of the Government. I do not believe that it fundamentally taxes their legislation. My amendment is a move in the right direction. I do not see why the Minister cannot say that the version of the argument which I and my hon. Friends have put forward is acceptable.
The general desire of the unions to have greater control over their destiny is justified. The Minister should apply his mind not to rhetoric or general abuse of the present system—I do not seek to justify any of that—but to why, given the Government's great faith in democracy, the amendment cannot be allowed.
My amendment refers to secret postal ballots — I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not trying to score a point. Further amendments tabled by members of the Social Democratic party will have the effect of calling for postal ballots. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) will, if he catches Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, argue that case. I thought that the hon. Gentleman intended bringing forward a reason for being against my modest proposal, and I was disappointed that he did not. Perhaps one of the other Conservative Back Benchers will do so before the debate terminates. To date, the Government have not come up with a good argument for doing other than vote for the amendment.
The proposals of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) are not very wide, although the hon. Gentleman suggests that they are, of the principle stated by the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman was really saying that the Government will offer this legislation to the unions and say, "Here is the piece of legislation. If you do not like it, you need not have it. You can vote against it, but the others must put up with it." We should not approach the legislation in that way, certainly not when making fundamental differences to some of the unions' facilities. Inevitably, the unions will reject that concept. They will accept the five-yearly voting provisions, but union pressure will be to reject the legislation.
It is not sensible to offer this legislation to the unions and say, "If you do not like it, you need not do it." Despite what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) said, this is an inflexible and uniform approach. It is not true that it is too rigid in what it seeks to do. The clause states that union members must vote at least every five years for the executive, but the system is flexible in its time and its provisions for allowing various sections of the unions to elect members. We are trying to create a general framework within which union rules must lie. The legislation is not as unreasonable or rigid as has been suggested.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) was worried, as he has been on odd occasions in the past, about the position of the Conservative party. The Conservative party is not a trade union. Its members do not have to join a trade union to obtain a job in a certain area, unless they want to be elected to Parliament, as in the last election. That concept shows a distinct difference between Conservative and Labour views.
It is true that the development of the unions in the past 100 or more years has been complicated. Have attitudes developed? The Government, during the passage of various pieces of legislation, including this Bill, are trying to get the unions to show a more futuristic approach. Some of the unions have lagged behind. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has said that the trade unions have fulfilled a purpose in trying to struggle—that is the operative word—against employers in the public and private sectors. We are trying to change the position so that there is not a struggle against employers but a struggle with them to serve this country. We do not want the direct antagonism that was implicit in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's words. We want the trade unions to develop in the future.
We have not adopted an anti-trade union approach at any time during the passage of the Bill—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar may think so, but some of us are convinced and recognise the vital part that modern trade unions have to play in the future. Those trade unions, however, must change, as industry and commerce must, their appoach to what happens. That does not mean that trade unions are not important, but we are advocating changes for the future. I believe that that is what the Bill does, but if we accept the amendment we will be going the wrong way and saying, "All right, lads, do as you please." The legislation is trying to guide the unions into the future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) on making a speech relevant to the subject we are discussing. The hon. Members for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) and for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) made speeches of colossal and thundering irrelevance. They attempted to introduce the present miners' dispute into the debate.
Ballots for union elections have nothing to do with any issue in the current dispute. Secondly, the Government have held out the manner in which elections to the National Union of Mineworkers' executive is held as a paradigm of what union elections should be. Both points show that those two hon. Members have not grasped the issue. It is not surprising that they scurry away—
If the rationale behind the hon. Gentleman's argument is that the unions can be trusted to apply democracy in the interests of their members without the backstop of legislation, the question he appears to have overlooked is how one reconciles the action of the National Union of Mineworkers in relation to the miners' strike. It is a matter of intention rather than the application of ballots.
Before the hon. Gentleman intervened, I thought that he had not understood what I was saying. That opinion is now confirmed.
If the purpose of the legislation is to implement the wishes of trade union members, how can that be achieved without ascertaining the wishes of each individual member? That issue is paramount within the context of trade union democracy.
Every hon. Member must appreciate that the Government are embarking upon a highly unusual step when they impose state regulation on voluntary associations. Everyone would accept that that is highly unusual, although some Conservative Members would try to justify it. It is unusual because of the voluntary nature of trade unions and because in other European countries it is rare, if not unknown, for the state to impose particular systems of elections upon trade unions. Unions are voluntary bodies composed of people who desire to form an association for particular ends. Prima facie, they are entitled to decide their own future.
One of the points that seems to be forgotten by Conservative Members when debating this subject is that trade unions have rule-changing procedures. They can initiate rule changes whenever they wish. The absence of any great push for rule changes within trade unions militates heavily against the Government's claim that trade union members desire that reform. It is precisely because of the unusual step that the Government were taking that they sought to push their justification for the Bill on the highest ground that they could. They chose the high ground of trade union democracy. The purpose of the new clause is to bring reality face to face with that issue.
The Green Paper on trade union democracy, the Conservative party manifesto and the speech of the Secretary of State on Second Reading all talk about the desire to give the unions back to their members. The great cry that was heard was, "Let the union members decide how their unions are to be run and controlled."
If the new clause is rejected, a trade union's members could desire to have their union run in a particular way, and that desire can be obliterated by the legislation. No one can deny that. One could have a trade union in which 100 per cent. of the membership wanted particular rules, but the Government would take away its right to decide that and say, "No, you must decide your rules according to our legislative diktat." That would be the inevitable consequence of the Bill. How on earth can opposition to the new clause be justified in terms of trade unions' rights? It simply cannot be done.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton attempted to deal with that point. He suggested that if the amendment were accepted there would be trade union members who would not have what the Government considered an ideal form of democracy. He said that the rights of the minority in any trade union ballot would not function because they would not be allowed this particular system of democracy. The fact that the wishes of the majority should prevail is the answer to that point. If the system that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see is introduced, the majority who want the trade unions to run in the future as they are now will have their rights taken away in favour of the minority. The hon. Gentleman is saying that, whenever there is a ballot, the majority will win and the minority will lose. That is not right.
If the new clause is rejected, the proposed procedure will be forced on trade unions whether their members want it or not. It is for that reason that the Minister of State in Committee sought to shift the justification for this legislative procedure. He did not talk about the rights of trade union members, because he appreciated that he could not justify this measure on that basis; he talked about trade unions' immunities from action by employers. That is the important point that the Government wish to make. They do not seek to justify the Bill on the basis of trade union members' rights; if that were so, they would allow trade union members to decide whether they wish to have this procedure. The Government wish to alter the balance of industrial power to ensure that trade unions are circumscribed in a particular way because of the immunities that the Government say are given to trade unions.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's case perfectly well, but I do not understand why he feels that having an election alters the balance of industrial power. I understand his argument, which is a fair one, about whether trade unions should be asked to follow a particular method of voting, but how does it alter the balance of industrial power to have elections for the main executive committee?
It alters it in the way that the Government have laid down. Most people would accept that an employer gains if a trade union is weak. The proposed form of electoral procedure imposed and enforced upon every trade union will enmesh trade unions in legal battles and cause them administrative obstacles. That will weaken their ability to pursue the industrial interests of their members. That is why it is important that one does not divorce the type of procedure that the Government have laid down from the way that trade union members seek to run trade unions.
Many groups, including many professional groups, have told the Government that they disagree strongly with the type of procedure that the Government have laid down. The Secretary of State asked whether the Opposition could give any examples of circumstances in which the legislative procedure may be wrong or unfair, or whether there could be another way of doing things. I shall give the right hon. Gentleman two examples. The first is where there are indirect elections to a principal executive committee. There would be a direct election to the regional committee, and the regional committee would nominate people for the principal executive committee. Most trade unionists whom I know are perfectly happy with that type of election. It is democratic. It was considered democratic, yet under the Bill the trade unionists would be prevented from having that procedure.
My second example is that the many professional groups would like their delegates to go to an annual delegate conference that would elect the principal executive committee. Those people believe that that is the best way of doing things. They run their own organisation and have the appropriate experience. They say that that is the way in which they want to proceed. How can the Government say that that is a wrong, undemocratic or unprincipled way of doing things? Surely those people should be able to decide. If the members decide on a particular procedure, let them make up their own minds. If they decide that they want to do it in the Government's way, under the new clause they have the power to do that. Whatever the majority decide will be implemented. The Government's proposal is fundamentally undemocratic. They also assume that their type of democracy is the only type that one can have.
That is undoubtedly so. I ask my hon. Friend to consider another illustration. The Conservative party, like the Labour party, is unwilling to depart from electing its members to the House through individual constituencies. I think that both are right to believe that. It is desirable that an hon. Member should have an electoral area to which he is accountable and that the people in the area should have an identified Member who is accountable to them. The proposal in the Bill is equivalent to electing hon. Members on a list system, as in some other countries, where the whole nation votes for a list and not for individuals. We reject that system, because it destroys accountability. That is the weakness of the Government's case.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I should like to emphasise his point. All that we ask from the Government is that they attempt to draw upon the experience of trade unions over many years and at least try to let us all profit by it. If people feel that a certain way of doing things is right for their trade union, unless there is a good reason for a change—we have heard none — why should we change that because the Government wish to impose their own legislative procedure?
I gave an example of professional groups. I think that many of them might oppose the Government's legislation for reasons that are not connected with those given by the Labour party but are directly and solely connected with the fact that they feel that their own system of managing their trade union affairs is the way that they prefer.
Because the new clause gives the lie to the Government's claim that they will give the unions back to their members, it is important to stress all the time the basis upon which the matter was put to the electorate and upon which it is being put now. If the Government are seeking a case for a mandate, that mandate must be on the basis that trade union members will be given greater control over their individual trade unions. The new clause makes us appreciate that that is not so. This is the real reason why the procedure is being introduced. It will enmesh the trade unions in a web of disputes and difficulties about their elections. In other words, it will ensure that, rather than looking after the interests of their members, trade unions will become embroiled in legal conundrums that have nothing to do with the basic purposes of the trade union movement.
The Secretary of State hinted that some of us in the Opposition with legal experience are somehow disqualified from speaking on the Bill. With great respect, we are too qualified to do so. The tragedy is that there will be no better people than lawyers to speak on trade union matters after the Bill is passed. I do not want it, but it will be a direct result of the Government's legislation.
When we vote on the new clause, the true division will not be between those who support the Bill and those who do not. As we march through the Lobbies, the true division will be between real democrats and centralisers.
Being lectured by the Government on democracy in the trade unions is almost like being lectured on the same subject by the Communist party of the Soviet Union. Most of us recognise that the Conservative party is a very anti-democratic organisation. I am a vice-president of my union. The Secretary of State may argue that not many people turn up at branch meetings, but many more people voted for me in my union—the Association of Professional, Clerical and Computer Staff — than voted for the Minister of State to become chairman of the Conservative party.
If the Conservative party were a democratic organisation and accountable to its members, and if people such as the Minister of State, who I do not believe will remain chairman for long, were elected by the party members, the Government would be in a better and superior position to lecture the Opposition and the trade union movement on democracy. In so many respects the Conservative party is run almost — I shall not say entirely—like the Communist party in the Soviet Union or any other such ruling party.
The leader of the Conservative party is all-powerful. The immediate predecessor is usually not mentioned. He is either in disgrace or in semi-disgrace. Everyone recognises that the party's annual conference is a total farce. Does anyone believe that representatives go to the Tory party conference to decide policy? Of course not. It is all stage-managed from beginning to end.
I listened with interest to the experiences of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). In my union, elections are held not every four or five years but annually. With regard to accountability, at the end of April I shall go with my colleagues on the executive to our annual conference, where we shall submit a report on our activities. Every section of our annual report to conference is subject to scrutiny and can be referred back. We are accountable for all our activities during the past 12 months and are elected each year.
The Conservative party — certainly the present Government—is inspired by spite and malice against the trade union movement. One example is the banning of trade unions at Cheltenham, which was hardly a democratic decision. There was not a ballot so that the members could decide whether they wanted to remain in their respective unions. The Government gave a diktat. The union members had to give up their membership if they wanted to work at Cheltenham. That was not an illustration, I suppose, of the Government's commitment to any form of democracy—[AN HON. MEMBER: "The union members were bribed as well."] Of course, that is true.
I understand that the TUC general council is now considering whether it should ask the International Labour Office whether what the Government are doing is a breach of ILO conventions Nos. 87 and 98 on freedom of association. That is an important point.
We have argued about eastern Europe. Unlike Conservative Members, we do so out of a genuine commitment to democracy. One of our points is that, by and large, trade unions in eastern Europe are almost like company unions. They are state-run. For example, in Poland it was clear that the overwhelming majority of ordinary working people decided that they wanted to belong to a genuine trade union. Good luck to them. People should have that right, be it in Poland or Cheltenham. Surely trade unions in our own country should have the right to detennine how to run their affairs. If it is argued that that is all very well but the Government must set guidelines, the fact remains that trade unions are among the most democratic institutions in Britain.
It has been asked of one Conservative Member whether democracy prevails in stockbroking, and we have been told that that is irrelevant. Many institutions in Britain are not run democratically. Mr. Rupert Murdoch owns many newspapers and is not accountable to anyone. He has immense power over the lives of many people who work in his press empire. What democracy exists in the Murdoch set-up? Is there any suggestion that the Government are to make the City, industry or mass communications more democratic? Are they to be subject to Bills such as this? I do not pretend for a moment—no active trade unionist would—that trade unions are without blemishes. However, trade unions have always been run on democratic lines.
When Conservative Members have been pressed to name a trade union—that is all that we ask—in which there are not elections for the executive, they have not been able to do so. Unlike the Conservative party and its front organisations, and unlike the City and the press, trade unions are subject to democratic elections. No one has suggested that what happens in my union—for example, over elections—is not democratic.
It might be, as the Secretary of State has argued, that not enough people attend branch meetings, but it is not possible to force people to attend them, any more than it is possible to force them to vote in any other system. As much as two thirds of the electorate might not vote in local government elections in some parts of the country. Is that an argument for abolishing local democracy? At least one third of the electorate never vote in parliamentary elections? Does that mean that we are not democratically elected? Therefore, when we consider what happens in trade unions, we should consider other environments in which it is difficult to get people to exercise their right to vote. The Minister is muttering. If he wishes to intervene, I shall give way.
New clause 1 provides an opportunity, if the Government are willing to take it, to see what trade unionists want. Let them decide what system of internal elections they want. It is not part of my argument that the proposed form of internal election is wrong in itself any more than it is part of the argument advanced by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Our argument is that trade unions, being independent organisations, should be able to decide how they want to run their affairs.
Perhaps I might again use the illustration of my union, which is typical of many others. We have a rules revision conference every four or five years. We are having such a conference this year, and about 80 motions and amendments have been tabled. They deal with the union's internal affairs and represent all types of suggestions. There will be a vote at conference accordingly. What is wrong with that? It is wrong for the Government to dictate that all unions must behave in a certain way when conducting their internal elections. That is what is undemocratic.
In view of the Government's majority, new clause 1 will fail and the Bill's basic provisions will become law. Many laws have been directed against trade unions. Indeed, almost from the beginning, trade unions had to act in a semi-illegal way. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Tolpuddle martyrs. I am sure that Conservative Members can have a good sneer about that. They were martyrs because they were denied the right to belong to a trade union and were punished and deported to Australia.
I do not expect Conservative Members to understand or appreciate that each year the martyrdom of those men is commemorated at Dorchester as we have the highest respect for those pioneers of trade unionism who were willing to sacrifice much to establish the type of freedom and democracy of which we are so proud now.
Governments come and go. All the laws that were so hateful to the trade union movement have passed away—often as a result of many years of campaigning—but the trade union movement prevailed in the end. Many of us have witnessed that more recently with the Industrial Relations Act 1971. There is no doubt that this Bill will pass away in the same way.
The trade union movement will find that the laws that are offensive to it and undermine the right of working people to be members of a trade union and to organise its internal affairs will pass away. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that after the Minister has been forgotten and the Government have gone the right of working people to run their own affairs in trade unions will be reestablished.
So far, the debate has been more to do with the internal affairs of the Conservative party than the matter before us. Not one Opposition Member who has spoken has not spent a considerable time dealing with the Conservative party.
New clause 1 is a simple proposal which enables the membership of a trade union to use their democratic right to elect an executive. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) referred to a colleague asking him which union did not follow such a practice. We object not to the practice but to the method of election. We have all heard about and had evidence of some of the worst practices to be found in some sectors of the trade union movement. I have enormous regard for many people in the trade union movement but I despise those who abuse their privilege and power. The idea of the Bill is simply to ensure that members of unions that do not conduct their affairs democratically should have the opportunity to make them do so.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a point that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have been trying to get information on. If there is one trade union that does not carry out democratic practices and does not elect executive officers and the rest, can we be told which it is, or is the hon. Gentleman engaged in a general smear that is without foundation?
It would appear that the simple answer is that you should refer immediately to Committee proceedings when the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) told of such incidents. They are recorded.
We all know of meetings that have been arranged in smoke-filled rooms in a remote place at which 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. of the membership has voted, empowering the elected members to cast block votes. The place for the membership to have its say is clearly at the place of work. You cannot suggest that an election by 1, 2, 3 or 4 per cent. of the membership is a democratic election. It is outrageous even to suggest that.
Under this proposal, the membership will have the opportunity to vote for its executive at least every five years. In Committee we discussed many trade union rules and regulations, and there was no doubt that a number of trade unions would need only a modest adjustment to their rule books to conform to this proposal, while other unions would need a radical review. The fact remains that there is much flexibility within this proposal. It simply says that at the place of work and by secret ballot all the membership will have the opportunity to elect their leaders and representatives at least once every five years.
I find the argument that that principle is incorrect almost laughable. It is horrifying that you should try to defend such a position. Unions have practised the most outrageous restrictive practices in the past and only legislation has stopped that. I do not fall out with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) over the Tolpuddle martyrs and other such people, but the balance of power has changed. The trade union movement has lost its way. It is no longer concerned, as its principal objective, with the pay and working conditions of its members. Its main objectives now are political, while its objectives for its membership are secondary. It is important that those who represent the membership should be accountable to the membership and that once again we have—
Would the hon. Gentleman say, with reference to the new clause, why it is wrong with trade unionists deciding by ballot whether they wish to adopt the Government system? If the purpose of the Bill is to make trade union leaders accountable to their members, why not allow the members to decide whether they want the system?
I apologise profusely, Mr. Speaker.
How the membership elects the leadership is clearly defined in the Bill. In Committee, we had many examples, as we did on Second Reading, of unions electing officers on low polls. There is no earthly reason why any member of a trade union should take exception to these rules. I feel sure that the majority of the rank and file of the trade union movement will welcome the proposal.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how the Bill will guarantee that there will be bigger turnouts in elections after the Bill has been passed than there were before?
The simple answer is that there could hardly be less of a turnout than before. There is no guarantee. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) may have been right when he said that there are a number of activists in the trade union movement and the majority of people are apathetic. If that is the case, so be it. That is not a problem for us. We have to ensure that trade union members have the opportunity of placing a vote.
Will the hon. Gentleman answer a specific question? As I understand it, the British Medical Association elects most of its principal executive by an annual delegate conference. It desires to do it that way and there is no evidence to suggest that it desires to do it in any different way. Why should it not be allowed to do it in the way that it wishes?
When the Government are dealing with legislation such as this it is certain that there will be organisations that will come into the parameters, and will have to decide whether they wish to continue with their present articles. This is clear, and a number of peripheral subjects were clearly defined in response to the question of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) in Committee when these matters were discussed.
In response to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), I am convinced that there will be a substantial increase in the membership voting for its executive, but there is no guarantee that it will be increased. However, if there is no increase, that will be the responsibility of the members from that point on, because we shall be giving them the opportunity to vote at their place of work rather than having to vote in a remote location nominated by the trade union leadership. That has denied many members the opportunity to vote in the past.
I shall not answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo).
I regard this afternoon's debate with mixed feelings. There is some satisfaction in the fact that we have heard from Conservative Members who took little part in the discussion in Committee. Those of us who have been members of the Committee cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) has delighted us in a way that we would have anticipated, and we look forward to many more of his contributions later on.
We feel some sadness that it is only late in the afternoon that the Under-Secretary of State for Employment has joined the debate. In Committee, he embellished and enlivened our understanding of trade unionism to such an extent that the word "GMBATU" is now on the lips of all trade union members and all readers of The Guardian diary. It is a great pleasure for all of us that he has come to offer advice and guidance to the Minister when he winds up on this new clause.
Throughout our deliberations in Committee, the Government argued that part I of the Bill will give a trade union back to its members — a mistaken argument, of course, because the trade union has never been taken away from its members. New clause 1 gives the members the opportunity to pass judgment on the Government's imposed model of trade union democracy.
I listened with interest to the speeches of Conservative Members, and I have not yet found one that opposed new clause 1. The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) spent a good deal of time talking about the current dispute in the coal industry, confusing part II with part I of the Bill. If he had participated more often in our Committee deliberations, he might not have made that simple mistake. When he spoke about the National Union of Mineworkers, the hon. Gentleman did not say that there was a more than 80 per cent. turnout of the union when the current president of the union was elected. Nor did he say that the turnout at the election of the Yorkshire president of the NUM was more than 70 per cent. He gave no good reason why NUM members, or indeed other trade union members, should not be allowed to ballot on whether they wanted the Government's model to be imposed on their trade union.
The only argument the hon. Member for Elmet used was to suggest that somehow, if the ballot took place and came up with what presumably would be the wrong result from the point of view of the union leadership. that leadership would defy and deny the result of that ballot. If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he has failed to read part I, which would give any aggrieved member of a trade union the opportunity to take that trade union and its leadership to court. So new clause 1 would not just present the opportunity to ballot on the Government model but would provide the opportunity in part I for any aggrieved member who felt that his union had not gone along with the result of a ballot to take it to court.
I said that new clause I was, in effect, a wide-ranging contracting-out clause. I said that it was clear from the current action in the mining industry that there are some trade union leaders who, unless there is a clear legislative underpinning of basic democratic rights, will abuse the constitutions and manipulate them to achieve their own ends and to defy the wishes of their members.
I find it inconceivable that the NUM executive has not called a national ballot of all its members to decide whether to strike. Without that basic commitment to democracy in the NUM, which has been held out as a paragon of virtue, it is much more important for the Government to ensure that minimum requirements are laid down by law.
The hon. Gentleman's confusion suggests that he does not understand the difference between part I and part II and that he is not prepared to answer my question. I can only conclude that he does not believe that the NUM leadership would defy a ballot result. In those circumstances, I imagine that the hon. Member for Elmet will join us in the Lobby to vote for new clause 1.
I also expect the hon. Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and for Staffordshire, South-East to support new clause 1, because neither has made an argument substantial enough to suggest that it is incorrect to put the Government's model to the trade union membership. Indeed, if I understood the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford correctly, he said that his only objection to new clause 1 was that it was a once-for-all ballot. He somehow felt that the Government's model was cheapened if it did not go to the union membership. He was right to say that, and I hope that he will find it possible to support us in the Lobby.
The Government tonight must be acutely embarrassed. They are denying trade union members the opportunity to cast their votes and put forward their views on the Government's model. Why are the Government frightened of that ballot? Why are they running away from that ballot? Is it because their model is defective? Is it because their model does not take account of the history, organisation and structure of the trade union movement? Or is it because, as we know from our debates in Committee, Conservative Members are not keen to encourage trade union democracy? When we suggested that we should impose an obligation on employers in the Government's model to give a mandatory right to trade unions to hold a ballot at the place of work, Conservative Members opposed it, although all the evidence shows that workplace ballots produce a larger turnout.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East said that the answer to the problem was a workplace ballot. If he reads part I, he will see that the Government model imposes no mandatory obligation on employers to allow a workplace ballot. I should be much more convinced of his commitment to democracy if he were to table an amendment along the lines that I am suggesting to make workplace ballots mandatory and thus make large turnouts possible. However, the hon. Gentleman has not done so. I can only assume that, like other Conservative Members, his commitment to democracy is, at best, skin deep and, at worst, very damaging.
We know the extent of the Government's commitment to democracy since the Bill has been published. After our debates on this part of the Bill were over, the Government took away from GCHQ workers at Cheltenham the basic right to belong to a trade union. Perhaps the Government are frightened to put this model to the test because trade unions will recognise the true nature of the Government's views on trade unionism. Trade unionists now know what this Government is about. The mask has fallen away. This is an authoritarian Government who are blatantly committed to a set of anti-trade union policies. They dare not risk a ballot, because they know that trade union members now recognise the reality of Government policies.
I was disappointed by the opening speech of the Secretary of State, because I thought that he, of all people, would go along with new clause 1. It is clear that he has persuaded some of his colleagues to go against that—presumably, not on the basis of intellectual conviction but because they are whipped tonight. The Secretary of State should have used Conservative party policy as a guideline. I should like to quote "The Right Approach" of 1976, which was the first policy document on this subject to be produced by the Conservative party under its current leadership — that is, the person who makes up the electorate of the chairman of the Conservative party. What the document said is, in fact, the intellectual foundation of new clause 1.
I am surprised that Conservative Members have not read "The Right Approach". We know from the Under-Secretary's comments in Committee that election manifestos produced by political parties are not to be taken seriously, but a policy document produced halfway through a Parliament must be taken seriously—certainly one that was produced almost immediately after the election of a new leader. That policy document said:
The main desire for improvement in the democratic procedures must come from the members themselves.
The right approach is new clause 1, because it would allow the members to decide whether the Government's arbitrary authoritarian model was the most appropriate for their trade union.
Judging from Second Reading and Committee debates, other Conservative Members should be supporting new clause 1 tonight. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is not with us—
I rise only to correct a small error that the hon. Gentleman made. It was not my advice that the manifesto should not be read. I said that the notes on guidance for speakers are seldom read by candidates.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should say that. One has noticed his almost total reliance upon civil servants on certain occasions. It means that he clearly relied on briefs in those circumstances.
The hon. Member for Langbaurgh has no doubts; he is not the sort of individual to entertain doubts. On Second Reading he said:
Every trade union leader has had the opportunity to organise some kind of ballot among the members to prove that the Government's proposals are wrong". — [Official Report, 8 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 221.]
New clause 1 would allow the Government to impose that ballot and give us the opportunity to argue that the Government's proposals are wrong. It would also give Ministers and Conservative Members the opportunity to argue that their proposals are correct.
The involvement in Committee of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) seemed to decline almost coincidentally with his publicity as a result of the "Panorama" programme. His absence today may well be a further sign that the Minister has put the hon. Gentleman under wraps. On Second Reading he said that the majority of trade unionists would support the legislation. Who could be more persuasive? Anybody who saw the hon. Gentleman on "Panorama" will know how much in touch he is with rank and file trade unionists. His word should be good enough for Conservative Members. It is certainly good enough in other circumstances for the Minister of State. I should have thought that Conservative Members would say that they are confident enough in the proposals, that they want to put them to trade union members and that they want to give them a ballot.
The Secretary of State concluded by saying that the Labour party was trying to deny trade unionists the right to vote. If the Government vote against new clause 1, it is they who are denying trade unionists the right to vote. It is they in their arrogance who are imposing upon trade unions a model which has not been tested, which is defective, and they dare not put it to trade union members. It would be an escape from democracy. It would be an abdication of responsibility.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that when the House passes legislation which affects any minority group we should say to those minority groups, "Look, we are passing this legislation. You can do it if you want to by having a vote amongst your members"?
In Committee and on Second Reading, Conservative Members made it abundantly clear that their objective was to give the trade unions back to their members. This is an opportunity to do that. If they vote against new clause 1 tonight they will be denying trade unionists a voice and at the same time imposing upon them a defective model. For those reasons, I hope that the House will support new clause 1.
We should start by realising in what circumstances new clause 1 has been tabled. It has been tabled in response to the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, we should look back on the genesis of this new clause. If the Labour party had a long record of giving trade unionists the opportunity to decide whether they wanted a democratic system, if we had had a series of trade union Bills which included that opportunity, I should have been happier about the proposition that this new clause is in defence of democracy. The Labour party did introduce a number of trade union Bills—we are not talking about batting numbers — but in none was there very much discussion about democracy. That appeared only in the ill-fated "In Place of Strife". I should have been happier if it had arisen from a party which when it was in power had on occasion shown itself concerned to give such an opportunity to trade union members.
I fear that the reason for the new clause is simply that Labour Members, faced with the uneasy situation in which they have voted against democracy on every occasion that has arisen in Committee, decided that they ought to have some excuse. The excuse that they have provided for themselves is that there should be one opportunity for one man to vote once. That is the proposition that is enshrined in the new clause. It is not that there should be a continuing opportunity. It is not that the minority should have some rights as well. There is no possibility of somebody in the future perhaps having a new look at it. There is the opportunity to vote once in order to avoid the charge, which is otherwise all too readily sustained, that, when it comes down to it in vote after vote in Committee, Labour Members have tried to stop trade unionists having a right to decide secretly, equally and conveniently who should run their union.
The difficulty is that if we are not careful the argument will polarise. On the one hand there are those Conservative Members who ignore the real point that has been put forward by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) which, I hope he will allow me to say—I do not mean to be flattering—was clearly put. He said, simply, that there was no objection to democracy in principle. The objection really was that somebody from outside was insisting upon, first, democracy and, secondly, democracy of a particular kind for trade unions. That as I understand it is the proposition that has been put forward
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) seems to think that I have not understood it. If he does not accept what I say in one of my milder moods, perhaps he will be even less willing to do so when I come to deal with his speech. I understood the hon. Member for Sedgefield to make the sensible and clear point that he really objected to the fact that the Government were telling the trade unionists how they should run their elections and imposing upon them a particular method. I think that we can agree that that is one part of what the hon. Gentleman said. In those circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to say that if it were not for the history of 60 years in which, year after year, we were told that trade unions would find a way out of their difficulties themselves, if it were not for the fact that many Conservative Members have gone up and down the country saying to those who demanded that there should be such legislation that the change would take place internally, trade unions would make their decisions because in general they were sensible people who would produce a democratic answer which would differ from one place to another—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman May not know this. He is not a member of the Conservative party and has not listened to the constituency debate that we have had on this matter. That has always been my position. I made it clear at the beginning of the Bill.
I am sorry that we have had to introduce the Bill at all. Ideally, the trade unions would have reformed themselves and then we would not have been in this position. The difference between us on this particular point is simply that the hon. Gentleman says that democracy is a good thing, but he would like to see it more widely expressed, with a wider interpretation, so that the trade unions would be left to make their own decisions on what is democratic.
If there had been a sign that GMBATU was moving away from branch elections, in which the minority scoops the pool, or that something was being done in even small unions which Opposition Members think it peculiar to quote—[Interruption.] About 3,500 people owe their living to the closed shop arrangement of the Film Artistes Association, but for Opposition Members those people do not count. Nevertheless they are members of a union, which is part of the Trades Union Congress. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will agree that if his case is to be upheld he must point out major advances towards democracy that have been carried out in trade unions other than the EETPU and the AUEW during the past 10 years.
I am delighted that the Minister has so graciously understood one part of my argument, but he has not replied to the kernel of the argument. Does he accept that if the new clause is rejected and the Bill is passed trade union members will not be allowed to decide their system of election, and that even if trade union members decided that they wished to retain their present form of election they would be unable to do so?
I do not accept that. Trade union members will not be allowed to decide to have elections which are not secret, convenient or equal — in other words, elections which offend against the minimum basis of democracy. I am happy to answer the only valid bit of the argument, not least because the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) put it clearly and reasonably, which is whether it is reasonable to exclude indirect elections. That refers to the nature of the election arrangement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an important point when he opened the debate. He asked clearly which condition—the secrecy, the equality or the convenience of the ballot—hon. Members wanted to give unions the chance to opt out of. Which condition is wrong?
I am obliged to the Minister for giving way, but does he realise the significance of his remarks? The new clause calls for a vote by union members to decide whether they want to have the provisions in part I. If they decide that they do not want them, the Minister would be right in saying that it was a once-for-all vote. However, if they decided that they did want the provisions, there would be many votes. As the Minister describes this as a demand for a once-for-all vote, is he not assuming that, given a free choice, union members would reject part I?
Certainly not. The hon. Gentleman missed the first part of my argument. The Labour party wants one vote, on one occasion. The reason for the amendment is not a new-found love of democracy in the Labour party, because there is no such history. Of the number of trade union reform Bills produced by the Labour party, none contained democratic provisions. The Labour party proposes the new clause from sheer funk. It has become so embarrassed by the fact that it has voted every time against democracy and a secret, convenient and equal ballot that it wants an excuse to say that it voted for democracy once. That is the only reason for the new clause. The hon. Member for Truro is the one hon. Member who, with perfectly reasonable credentials, brought forward an argument which must be discussed seriously. I hope that we shall be allowed to do that at the appropriate time.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said how remarkable branch meetings were. He asked why unions should not have votes at branch meetings and said that it was perfectly democratic to have them. I realise that he is slightly embarrassed about branch meetings. He will not expect me to make my speech without referring to that and I shall not disappoint him. He is embarrassed because nearly half the branches of his union did not meet to vote and did not send in a single vote—even one branch secretary failed to send in their votes. The other branches managed to make up an electorate which was 2 per cent. of the total union membership.
I might say that in my sleep because it is as true in my sleep as in my waking hours. If the hon. Gentleman said it in his sleep, he would perhaps support the Government.
Branch elections do not produce a democratic answer. The TUC's training manual for representatives confirms that. It states:
Most members don't go regularly to union branch meetings. Many members find it hard to get out for evening meetings, and if the branch covers more than one workplace, then members may not feel directly involved in a lot of the business.
The Trades Union Congress is quite right. That is the nature of the branch meeting and it does not provide a democratic forum for elections. There is nothing wrong with branch meetings, but they are the wrong place to see what representation branch members want.
If the Labour party says that unions should have the right to opt out of simple democratic minima, as set out in the Bill, it is saying that the majority of trade union members should deny the minority, if they were so to vote, the right to vote secretly, conveniently and equally. That should never be open to an organisation with special privileges, such as the trade unions.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield rightly said that I suggested that a reason for the legislation was the immunity accorded to trade unions. I did so not because it is contrary to the claim that the members should control the union but because it is concomitant with that claim. If one gives immunity, one gives immunity not to a small, group elected by even smaller groups at branch meetings but to all union members so that the union can function. Therefore, an integral part of immunity is that it should not be given to a small eclectic group, but to all members. Part and parcel of receiving that immunity should be the right to vote.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) rightly talked of the irrelevance of many of the Opposition arguments. It may be that the hon. Member for Walsall, North dislikes the constitution of the Conservative party, but the Conservative party does not like him. The Conservative party hopes that one day, for the benefit of the nation, he will be thrown out on his ear. However, the Bill is not about the Conservative party but about a series of organisations that receive an immunity, which is denied to the Conservative party, the Labour party and other organisations. If an organisation has such immunity and is allowed protection which no one else has, the least that can be demanded of it is that it gives its members a secret, equal and convenient vote. That seems to be perfectly acceptable.
It will be to the benefit of the nation if I remain here for many years. Does the Minister of State realise that if the Conservative party were democratic, his arguments would carry more credibility? But no one elected him as chairman of the Conservative party. He was appointed by one person. Does he agree that the Conservative party's annual conference is stage-managed from beginning to end and that ordinary members of the party have no say in the appointment of their leader, the party chairman or any other national official?
I have refreshed my mind about the long title of the Bill. Much as I should like to have a long discussion with the hon. Gentleman about the fallacies of what he said about the Conservative party, I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I did so.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North has admitted what the whole Labour party has to admit. The Opposition do not have an answer to the Bill. Their only argument is cheap political propaganda. The hon. Gentleman is uniquely adept at that, although it is the only thing at which he is adept. No wonder he has turned up for this debate. He takes every opportunity to use his unique ability which the citizens of Croydon, South caught on to rather quicker than have the citizens of Walsall, North.
The hon. Member for Truro said that his amendment was a modest proposal. I am sure that he would not like me to refer to the parallel of a more famous modest proposal. The hon. Gentleman asked why we could not give his amendment a fair wind and I shall explain why we do not find that possible.
If, over many years, the whole trade union movement had been moving towards a more democratic structure and there were a spirit abroad in the trade union movement stressing that that was the direction in which it ought to go, and if the leaders had been bending their shoulders to produce an answer to meet the minima proposed in the Bill, the "modest proposal" of the hon. Member for Truro would have considerable merit.
However, I am worried about cases in which, say, 52 per cent. of union members voted against our proposed changes and 48 per cent. voted in favour. I do not believe that it would be reasonable for the minority to be denied the right of democratic participation. In the same way, I should be unhappy if the people of Truro decided that elections there should be held in a different way from elections in the rest of the country and they removed the right of secrecy, equality and convenience.
Furthermore, I do not believe that there is anything so evil in asking for secrecy, equality and convenience that the proposal of the hon. Member for Truro should stand. There is a reasonable argument about direct and indirect elections, and that is where I pray in aid the trend in the trade union movement. If we had seen that indirect elections were generally a bastion of democracy throughout the trade union movement, I should feel happier about the hon. Gentleman's amendment. Unfortunately, there are so many examples of indirect elections being the means to deny democracy rather than extend it that we cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's "modest proposal".
The hon. Member for Sedgefield made an interesting point when he said that the Government's proposals on democracy alter the balance of industrial power. Evidently, secret votes, convenient votes and equal votes alter the balance of industrial power. The hon. Gentleman knows that all his talk about discussions in the courts, vast numbers or objections and so on are so much nonsense.
That was the second little argument used to try to cover the nakedness of the Labour party's opposition to democracy. First, they tried to cover their nakedness by promising democracy, once and for all. Secondly, they are trying to suggest that the system would be so complicated that we cannot allow people secrecy, equality and convenience.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) objected to my references to rotten boroughs. My only comparison was that the defence of rotten boroughs was almost exactly the same as the defence that we have heard of the existing systems in the trade union movement—inconvenience, people did not want to change, and so on. No doubt the eight electors of Dunwich in my constituency, who used to elect two Members of Parliament, would have said that they wanted to carry on with the existing system. The Opposition's argument is not acceptable.
The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fate hen), who delighted us in Committee with his stiletto wit, made a point that I found difficult to understand. He said that our proposals were arbitrary and authoritarian. But what is arbitrary about asking for a secret ballot? What is authoritarian about asking for everyone to have an equal vote? Why should we not ensure that ordinary trade union members have a vote?
My hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) and Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) were right when they said that the problem with all our debates on the Bill is that the Opposition's arguments are not arguments of principle or sense; they are arguments that seek to hide the fact that their paymasters do not want democracy.
The Minister of State said that the genesis of the new clause was the fact that the Opposition had voted against democracy at every stage in Committee. That is not true. The second amendment moved by the Opposition in Committee, while in a different form from the new clause—otherwise, the new clause would not have been selected for debate — would have had a similar impact.
Throughout the Committee stage, the Opposition argued not against secret ballots, the right to vote or the principle of voting at a convenient time and place but for the right of free trade unions in a democratic society to adopt and adapt their methods as those unions develop. That has been our principal argument throughout.
I am sure that the Minister of State will agree that his speech was not one of his better efforts. He mentioned again the immunities enjoyed by trade unions. Surely even the Minister of State, after 37 sittings of the Committee, should recognise that immunities—if it is correct to say that trade unions enjoy immunities—have nothing to do with the election of members to executive committees. We shall, of course, be referring to immunities in part II of the Bill. I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman recognises by now that immunities have nothing to do with election to executive committees.
The Minister of State asked what is wrong with requesting secret ballots. The Government are not asking for secret ballots; they are dictating that certain forms shall be adopted. The Tory party is the last organisation in the world to issue diktats about democracy to anyone.
The Secretary of State welcomed newcomers to the Report stage of the Bill. He was by far the most distinguished newcomer to the Bill, because he knows as well as every other member of the Committee that we scarcely saw him in Committee. We saw him briefly at the first and last sittings and on one other occasion when he was dragged there in the middle of the night. The right hon. Gentleman is the last person to talk about welcoming anyone to proceedings on the Bill.
The Secretary of State said that he would give a small prize to any hon. Member who said something new. We all expected him to announce that he had won the prize for saying something new. Unfortunately, he made it clear that he simply does not understand the Bill that he has presented to the House and that he has not even read the Committee report.
The Secretary of State repeatedly made the canard that the purpose of the Bill was to give the unions back to their members. Ministers and Tory Back Benchers have continued to repeat the canard that the unions would be given back to their members. By constant repetition of the phrase, they hope that it will not be noticed that the unions already belong to their members, and to no one else. The British trade union movement has a long, proud history of ensuring, to the best of its ability, that its members are well looked after and catered for.
Throughout the first day on Report not one shred of evidence has been given to justify part I of the Bill. Speaking as a member of the AUEW engineering section, I am in favour of electing all trade union officers. That is the position in my union, although I point out that it is not the position under the Bill. My union has a long and proud record of electing all its officers—not only for the past 10 years, as the Minister of State implied, but since its inception. That position, established by the founding fathers of the union, has been amended and shaped by successive generations of members without interference by, or diktat of, central Government or any other organisation.
That method of election was frequently sanctimoniously applauded by Tory Ministers, but it is not necessarily true that every trade union should accept the method adopted by the AUEW. It is worth pointing out to the Government, and to Conservative Back Benchers, that the AUEW is the second largest trade union in the country and by far the biggest union in the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. Despite the fact that the AUEW is large, that its methods are well-known, and that every trade unionist who takes an interest in trade union activities knows how the AUEW's structure works and how it elects its members, there is no evidence that any other union, or any other group of union members, has ever sought to adopt the AUEW method. The truth is that most craft unions in the country adopt the method of electing their officers, whereas most general unions have a different method of electing or, in many cases, of appointing their officers. What they have in common is that they elect their principal executive committees. They do this in a variety of different ways because of the historical background of each trade union in Great Britain.
I do not intend to trace the backgrounds of the trade unions that make up the trade union movement in this country. However, it is fair to point out that no complaints have been made anywhere about the structure, formation and operation of the method of electing principal executive committees of trade unions in Great Britain. No complaints have been made by any employers' organisations. If that had been the case, the Minister of State would have quoted them ad nauseam in Committee.
Until recently, no complaints have been made by political parties. Notwithstanding anything that has been said from the Conservative Benches, this issue did not feature largely during the general election campaign. I suggest that Conservative Members did not mention to any group of electors in Great Britain that a Conservative Government would alter the laws relating to the election of executive committees. More important, no complaints have been made by any group of trade union members—not even Conservative trade union associations—and there have been no resolutions from branches or districts to the executive council or to the annual conference. No debates have taken place at union conferences on this issue suggesting that the method should be changed. No letters have been written to The Times or to the Daily Telegraph, or, more appropriately, to any trade union journals by any group of members demanding changes along the lines suggested in the Bill.
Many opportunities have arisen for the membership of unions to raise the issue. Apart from union conferences, resolutions from branches and letters to trade union journals, a number of amalgamations have taken place in the last 15 to 20 years. In that period, the number of unions affiliated to the TUC has been reduced from approximately 180 to 100. A major issue on amalgamation is how many officers there should be, how the officers should be elected, and where they should serve. In the course of amalgamation, the issue as to whether officers should be elected or appointed is subject to debate within the trade unions concerned. The answer is that such issues are never raised in any major way. The proposed amalgamation between the engineering section of the AUEW and the TASS section of the AUEW broke down on the issue of the election of full-time officials. Notwithstanding anything that was said about amalgamation in the journals of both organisations, I can recall no demand from the TASS membership that its executive committee should be appointed or elected by the same method as that adopted by the AUEW engineering section. No complaints have been made by the trade union membership. That should be put on record to nail the lie that there is widespread demand in the trade union movement for the changes outlined in the Bill.
What right has any political party in a democratic society to force free trade unions to accept a framework for which the trade union members have not asked? That issues lies at the heart of the debate.
The Tory party is on the slippery slope to an east European-type anti-democratic, authoritarian, corporate state. Do not Poland, Solidarity and General Jaruzelski spring to mind when we debate the free trade union movement and how it elects it officers in the United Kingdom?
Can the hon. Gentleman say when General Jaruzelski asked for secret ballots, convenient ballots and equal ballots? When he can say that, he can make the comparison.
In Poland, the trade unions wanted the freedom and the right to settle their own affairs in their own way. The Tory party wept buckets of hypocritical tears about the trade union movement in Poland, yet it is imposing shackles upon the British free trade union movement. That is the truth.
There are some other worrying authoritarian aspects of the Government, who are led by a narrow-minded Prime Minister. Did not the 1980 and 1982 trade union measures shackle the trade union movement? The rate-capping Bill is before the House. Do not the Government intend to abolish the metropolitan counties? Do they not intend to stop the 1985 county elections—information just leaked to us?
What about the abolition of trade unionism from GCHQ? Employees there were not allowed a ballot on whether they wished to continue to belong to a trade union. The right to belong was simply removed. What about the gaoling of Sarah Tisdall? That is a disgrace to any democratic society. What about this latest Trade Union Bill?
All those matters have one thing in common—the aim of the Tory party is to punish, cripple or silence opposition. That is the slippery slope. All this comes from a Tory party whose record on internal democracy is a farce. What right has a political party to dictate to any other organisation about its internal democratic procedures when it has no democracy itself? Who elects the Tory party's executive committee? Who decides the Tory party conference arrangements? Who examines its national accounts? Most important, who elects the Tory party chairman?
The Minister said that he hoped that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North, (Mr. Winnick) would be thrown out. I remind the Minister that my hon. Friend's constituents will decide whether he remains in the House, but only one person will decide whether the Minister continues in office. By all accounts he will not be in office much longer.
What next? What will be the Government's next action against the trade unions? The Government now say to the trade unions, "This is how you will conduct your elections". Will the Government next dictate how unions elect or appoint their officials? Will they tell unions how to organise their conferences? Will they dictate how unions submit wage claims and how much they will be? Will they tell us who can and who cannot stand for union office?
What is the difference between those questions and the Bill's provisions? The Government are laying down how unions shall conduct themselves internally. To suggest that the Bill is intended to give unions back to their members is an affront to anyone's intelligence.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, the purpose of part I is to create a charter for chaos and to try, through internal battles, to turn trade unions away from their proper job of looking after their members' interests. The new clause would put responsibility and power where they belong — in the membership's hands. Members should decide how to run their affairs, not politicians—especially Tory politicians.
What are the Government so afraid of? The Secretary of State informed us that a MORI poll showed that 83 per cent. of trade union membership want to elect full-time officers in the way devised by the Government. If so, why is the Secretary of State so afraid of accepting new clause 1 and allowing members to decide how they should elect their principal executive committees? The members know the issues, so they should be allowed to decide whether to change.
The truth is that the new clause calls the Government's bluff. It is nonsense to say that the Government want to give the unions back to their members. Anyone who believes in democracy recognises that a free trade union movement is one of the bastions of democracy. Any Government supporter who believes in that democracy should come into the Lobby with us tonight and vote for new clause 1.
|Division No. 201]||[7.36 pm|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Anderson, Donald||Fisher, Mark|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Flannery, Martin|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ashton, Joe||Foster, Derek|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Foulkes, George|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Barnett, Guy||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Barron, Kevin||Garrett, W. E.|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||George, Bruce|
|Bell, Stuart||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hardy, Peter|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Blair, Anthony||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Boyes, Roland||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Haynes, Frank|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Home Robertson, John|
|Buchan, Norman||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Caborn, Richard||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Clarke, Thomas||John, Brynmor|
|Clay, Robert||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Cohen, Harry||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Coleman, Donald||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Litherland, Robert|
|Corbett, Robin||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Cowans, Harry||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McCrea, Rev William|
|Craigen, J. M.||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Crowther, Stan||McGuire, Michael|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Dalyell, Tam||McKelvey, William|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||McTaggart, Robert|
|Deakins, Eric||McWilliam, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Madden, Max|
|Dobson, Frank||Marek, Dr John|
|Dubs, Alfred||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Martin, Michael|
|Eadie, Alex||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Eastham, Ken||Maxton, John|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Ellis, Raymond||Meacher, Michael|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Michie, William|
|Ewing, Harry||Mikardo, Ian|
|Fatchett, Derek||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Faulds, Andrew||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Smith, C,(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Nellist, David||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|O'Brien, William||Soley, Clive|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Spearing, Nigel|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Park, George||Stott, Roger|
|Patchett, Terry||Strang, Gavin|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Straw, Jack|
|Pendry, Tom||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Pike, Peter||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Radice, Giles||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Randall, Stuart||Tinn, James|
|Redmond, M.||Torney, Tom|
|Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Weetch, Ken|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Welsh, Michael|
|Robertson, George||White, James|
|Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Robinson, P. (Belfast E)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Rowlands, Ted||Winnick, David|
|Sheerman, Barry||Woodall, Alec|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon R.||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.||Mr. Don Dixon and|
|Skinner, Dennis||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Chapman, Sydney|
|Alexander, Richard||Chope, Christopher|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)|
|Alton, David||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Ancram, Michael||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Arnold, Tom||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Ashby, David||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Cockeram, Eric|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Conway, Derek|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Coombs, Simon|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Cope, John|
|Baldry, Anthony||Corrie, John|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Couchman, James|
|Batiste, Spencer||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Beith, A. J.||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellingham, Henry||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Bendall, Vivian||Dover, Den|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Durant, Tony|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Best, Keith||Eggar, Tim|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Evennett, David|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fallon, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Favell, Anthony|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Forman, Nigel|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bright, Graham||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Brinton, Tim||Fox, Marcus|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Freud, Clement|
|Browne, John||Fry, Peter|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Galley, Roy|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Budgen, Nick||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Burt, Alistair||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Butcher, John||Gorst, John|
|Butterfill, John||Gow, Ian|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Greenway, Harry|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gregory, Conal|
|Carttiss, Michael||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Cartwright, John||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Grist, Ian|
|Ground, Patrick||Marlow, Antony|
|Grylls, Michael||Mather, Carol|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hannam, John||Mellor, David|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Merchant, Piers|
|Harvey, Robert||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hayes, J.||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Moate, Roger|
|Hayward, Robert||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Heddle, John||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Henderson, Barry||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hind, Kenneth||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hirst, Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Newton, Tony|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Holt, Richard||Norris, Steven|
|Hooson, Tom||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hordern, Peter||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Howard, Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Page, John (Harrow W)|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Howells, Geraint||Parris, Matthew|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Hunter, Andrew||Pawsey, James|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Irving, Charles||Penhaligon, David|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Pollock, Alexander|
|Johnston, Russell||Porter, Barry|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Powley, John|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Kennedy, Charles||Price, Sir David|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Raffan, Keith|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Kirkwood, Archibald||Rathbone, Tim|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Renton, Tim|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Knowles, Michael||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knox, David||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Lamont, Norman||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Lang, Ian||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Latham, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shersby, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sims, Roger|
|Lester, Jim||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lightbown, David||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Lilley, Peter||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lord, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|McCrindle, Robert||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stokes, John|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Maclean, David John.||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Major, John||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Malone, Gerald||Viggers, Peter|
|Maples, John||Wainwright, R.|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Wood, Timothy|
|Walden, George||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Walker, Bill (T'side N)||Yeo, Tim|
|Wallace, James||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Warren, Kenneth||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Watts, John||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Wheeler, John||Mr. Michael Neubert.|