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Mr. Janman : The hon. Gentleman has spoken about workers not being set against one another. Does that mean some workers were allowed to disagree with the hon. Gentleman and other workers who shared his views?
Mr. Heffer : I have always agreed with people disagreeing with me-- whether in favour or not, that has happened. I am in favour of people disagreeing, as that is the essence of democracy. The day that such disagreement ends and we impose our view on other people is the end of democracy. We do not need to go into that argument, as most people know where I stand.
I believe that trade union organisation is the essence of democracy. We fought for the right to have the democratic organisation of trade unions. We were part of the Chartist movement. We were the ones who argued for the right to vote and the right to belong to a trade union. My fellow trade unionists and I represent the essence of the trade unionist movement and the essence of democracy.
The forefathers of Conservative Members fought against our rights, and they should not try to give us lessons about democracy. We do not need any lessons about that, because we understand it only too well. That is why some of us fought from the very beginning for the rights of Solidarity and of others in Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe. We did so because we believe in a democratic basis. What is even more worrying than the provisions in the Bill relating to the closed shop are those relating to
Column 77unofficial strikes. I have never said this before publicly, but I believe that I have only been on official strike once in my life.
Mr. Heffer : Exactly--because it was an inter-union dispute. I was the steward at the time, and I was told by my executive to pull my workers out because we did not agree with a certain trade union. I said that that was daft, but the executive said that it was instructing me, so I told the lads to go out. There was also a dispute at the Cammell Laird shipyard called the "screwy" strike. I was about to be elected as a full-time official, but I opposed that strike, and my vote went down the drain. People said that I was standing up against their interests.
All the other disputes in which I have been involved related to important worker rights, and they were unofficial. Some of us in the trade union movement have had experience of officials who were almost Conservatives. They never wanted to do anything when it came to the working people. We had to tell them to do something, and we fought for the right of workers to take action.
Imagine working in a bad shop that was full of fumes. Imagine that one had negotiated with the employer for years about getting some machinery to get rid of those fumes so that one could work in decent conditions. I can imagine the day when a number of such workers would say, "That's the end. We have had enough and we're not working here any longer." By walking out of the gates, they are taking unofficial action. Those workers would not ask the executive of their union about it, as it would no doubt say that it was still negotiating. The workers would be right to say, "Never mind that : we're working there and we can't tolerate it any more."
If a shop steward is wrongly sacked, there will not be a great argument about it. The workers will merely say, "We voted for him and we will defend him." That is what happens. That is what unofficial strikes are about. It would be stupid to say that every unofficial strike is right, but workers must take such action sometimes. Do Conservative Members think that workers like losing their wages? Do they think they like going home to their wives and saying, "I'm sorry, lovey. We're on strike. We'll get no wages at the end of the week and we won't get any dole money. We won't get any money from the union either"? That strike might last three or four weeks. Do Conservative Members think that their wives are understanding and say, "That's all right, love--carry on"? Not likely. I have received a lashing of the tongue sometimes because of unofficial strikes, and so has the average worker with two or three kids. They take such action because they cannot accept the conditions any more.
If the Bill is passed, it will be the equivalent of industrial slavery. It will force workers to do things that they would not normally do because they will be afraid of losing their jobs. They will lose the right to go to the tribunal--they will lose the right to do anything. That is the essence of the Bill. It is the worst piece of class legislation that we have ever had. We have had five nasty pieces of legislation, but this is the worst. They have all been bad, and I have opposed every one of them, as I will this Bill. Hon. Members have a right to know where I stand about the position adopted by my Front Bench colleagues. I believe that they have been somewhat misled by the
Column 78European social charter. I do not want to be tied to that charter. I do not believe that any of us should be. I say, "When it is good, support it ; when it is not so good, don't support it." That is my view. It is a simple, straightforward working-class view. I say, "If it benefits us, I am all in favour of it, but if it doesn't benefit us, don't support it." Conservative Members support little in the social charter because they think that most of it is in our favour. I think that all the bits that they do not like are worth while, and I am very much in favour of them.
The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities dealing with the social charter, provides a synopsis at paragraph 8(v) :
"Freedom of association and collective bargaining. This involves the right to organise trade unions and to choose whether or not to join them".
There is not too great a difference between myself and my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench about this. I am not denying for one moment that there is a difference, but we all agree that Conservative Members put their emphasis not on the right to organise, but on the right not to be in a union. The Bill gives the right to be an anti-trade unionist. The Bill gives rights to a whole bunch of people who will undermine the trade unions. That is where Conservative and Labour Members differ on this issue. I accept that we should have the right to organise into trade unions ; they put the emphasis on the right to choose to do so or to choose not to do so. I return to the point about the United States of America. I once won a scholarship to go to the United States of America to study the trade union movement, and that is what I did. It was interesting that, particularly in the southern states, there was legislation called "the right to work". In fact, it was anti-trade union legislation which stated that people did not have to belong to a trade union. In the states that had such legislation, workers' wages and conditions of employment were far worse than in the states that did not have such legislation. That is why I am not in favour of this aspect of the social charter.
I believe that my hon. Friends are misled on this issue and that they have got it slightly wrong. I am asking them to rethink this matter. However, I am delighted about one thing : we are all opposed to the Bill and shall vote against it on the Second Reading. I shall join my hon. Friends wholeheartedly in that.
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West) : The speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) followed a familiar pattern. I have heard him speak on industrial relations on many occasions. Sometimes he raised the temperature high, but sometimes it was much lower. The hon. Gentleman mentioned United Auto Workers of America and trade union practices there. I shall deal with that point a little later ; it relates both to the Bill and to my constituency.
As has been said, the Bill follows its predecessors in employment legislation in trying to get as fair a balance as possible between management and trade unions. In many ways, it is a furtherance of the step- by-step approach. However, as has also been said, the European social charter is now elbowing its way onto the scene. British industry should be encouraged to note that the social charter clearly recognises that progress in industrial relations should always take account of national priorities and obligations, arising under national regulations.
Column 79Therefore, there is a clear recognition that we have a different history of trade unionism and industrial relations in this country compared with our European counterparts. The preamble and more detailed comments of the social charter on industrial relations take note of that.
There has been a considerable change in trade union attitudes during the past decade. However, since the Bill was published, there has also been a simple query by management, which takes the form of the question, "Do we really need any more changes in the law? Is it not our job to manage better?"
Clauses 1 and 2 can be described as the
"helpful-access-to-employment" clauses. They are a firm demonstration of the Government's good intentions to make it as trouble free as possible for someone to find a job, be he or she a member of a trade union or not. We must look at that in relation to what is happening in the economy. The job vacancies position is starting to look shaky. High interest rates are still with us and at best we can expect a neutral Budget in March. I hope that, when the Bill is enacted, unemployment benefit offices will go out of their way to explain to people that there are new and welcome protections for individuals who are out of work and who need every encouragement and opportunity to find alternative employment.
The most contentious part of the Bill is that relating to unofficial strike action and to what can be done about it in employment law. The background has been the same throughout the past 10 years. Most strikes in this country are unofficial and do not last very long. However, even if they are of only a short duration, their effect can be considerable. Twenty-one years ago, Donovan recognised that, stating :
"Unofficial strikes will continue until the confusion which so often surrounds the exercise by management of its rights' has been resolved by the settlement of clear rules and procedures which are accepted as fair and reasonable by all concerned."
In other words, 21 years ago Donovan wanted a better understanding of what is expected of each employee when he or she is at work. We must ask two questions about the proposals relating to unofficial action. First, will the democratic authority of elected trade union officials be strengthened? We have changed the law to ensure that such authority as trade union officials have must come through the ballot box and through democracy. Secondly, by writing to their members repudiating such action, will trade unions be effective in ensuring that the dispute is quickly solved?
The Bill goes into considerable detail on that point. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has already referred to clause 6, which sets out a new subsection (5A) in section 15 of the Employment Act 1982 :
"The notice given to members must contain the following statement--
Your union has repudiated any call for industrial action to which this notice relates and will give no support for such action. If you are dismissed while taking unofficial action, you will have no right to complain of unfair dismissal.' "
In my view, that statement is far too blunt. We must include in the Bill a provision to ensure that the union refers to what it is doing to help to solve the dispute and whether it is seeking immediate outside help to resolve it and to get people back into normal working.
Column 80The clause deals with people who are members of trade unions. If we are to say that the union must send out that sort of letter to ensure that it cannot be had up for not taking sufficient action to stop the dispute, we should require the trade union to say more to its members, who may be taking unofficial action, about what the union is trying to do to get the dispute solved. I say that not least because if it is clearly stated in a letter that the union is bending over backwards to get the dispute solved, there is every possibility that the unofficial action will quickly end. In previous Employment Acts we have done all that we can to involve individual trade unionists in the conduct and affairs of their trade unions.
I now refer to two instances where there could be serious consequences if the wrong decision is taken on unofficial action. Privatised electricity is about to be launched. So far, the electricity industry has had a long history of extremely good industrial relations. Every effort has been made by the unions and the management of the industry to ensure that the employees are properly consulted and, above all, to ensure that, even if there are arguments between unions and management, the supply of electricity is uninterrupted. Already Mr. John Lyons, general secretary of the Engineers and Managers Association, has issued a warning. He hopes that when the new owners take over they will not exercise macho management techniques and introduce practices that have not hitherto existed in the electricity supply industry. Once these private companies are operating, they should take the greatest care before implementing this part of the Bill.
I want also to refer to the railway industry. Hon. Members have already mentioned unofficial strikes on tubes. The management have said that their consultative procedures were probably not right and that they may have been out of touch. We should all like rapid movement towards a single union in British Rail. Given the extent to which we shall depend on British Rail in the next 10 years, there should be enough confidence in security of employment for management and unions in that industry never to find that unofficial strikes have started due to a lack of understanding of what either management or trade unions have been trying to do to improve conditions in the industry.
Over the past 10 years, the Government have spent a great deal of public funds on management education. The latest figures available state that in 1987-88 more than £2.5 million was given in the form of recurrent grant to the London business school and £1.6 million to the Manchester business school. That is a good use of public money--to improve management education.
We should now be thinking about what we can do to extend management education to the shop floor. The purpose of management is to improve relations within a company and to make it more profitable and sensitive to markets, so there is surely a case for extending public funds to improving the education of those on the trade union side. After all, they are also in the business of making the company more profitable and sensitive to the market--and of ensuring that the general good of employees is continually enhanced. As we move into the new decade, we should think of ways of improving training opportunities for shop stewards, who play an important part in the running of their firms.
In the business section of The Daily Telegraph today, my hon. Friend the Minister of State refers to failures in business and pointed out that it is often lack of
Column 81managment expertise that causes businesses to go under. The lack of that expertise is also often the cause of industrial relations not being what they should be.
What can be done to promote a more constructive role for trade unions in the 1990s? What can be done to make them feel more a part of our improving industrial society? First, trade unions in certain industries should merge into single unions. The hon. Member for Walton mentioned the car industry. I dream of the day when a united autoworkers union exists in this country. We can debate ad nauseum what went wrong in Dundee, but one of Ford's problems was the unions there could not speak with a single voice.
By the middle of this decade there will be over-production in the car industry in Europe, and some plants will have to close. Let us ensure that plants in this country do not close. It is imperative that unions in the car industry merge into a single union ; that will be better for their members and for the industry. If that proves impossible, I hope that they will at least speak with a single voice in the next decade and beyond. So often, upsets in the car industry have resulted from unions being unable to agree among themselves. The unions' slogan used to be, "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work". It should now move on to be, "A generous day's pay for complete flexibility of working practices." If we are to ask that of the trade unions, we must ask something of employers, too. As it stands, the Bill could provide certain employers with an opportunity for doing rash and unwise things in industrial relations. That is why the Bill needs thorough scrutiny in Committee.
We have made great progress in industrial relations in the past 10 years. I only hope that this Bill is not a Bill too far. It is up to the Committee considering it to make sure that it is not.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : This certainly is a Bill too far. What concerns me about industrial relations legislation under this Government is, first, that there has been far too much of it and, secondly, that it rarely has anything to do with the promotion of good industrial relations. This Bill is no exception to that rule. It purports to be concerned with economic efficiency and individual freedom, but, in fact, in common with all its predecessors of the past 10 years, it is entirely born out of the narrow prejudices of the Conservative party.
If Tory Members really cared about individual freedom, that care would have to extend to views that did not necessarily coincide with their own. But it does not. If it did, staff at GCHQ would be freed from the political strictures imposed on them by the Government. How will they fare under clause 1, in terms of the right to belong to a trade union? While it is a refreshing change to see such a right proposed in Tory legislation, we all know that it is a right not to belong which the Government will promote and encourage.
With certain exceptions, I could live with the inclusion of this section of the European charter in British law, provided that the rest of the provisions of the charter were included, along with the important right of union members to be represented by their union. There is no point in being a member of a union unless a person has the right to be represented by the union to the employer.
Column 82Provided that we successfully amend clause 1 in the way outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), I do not believe that it will pose serious threats to union membership. After all, virtually outlawing the closed shop has had little, if any, effect. One hundred per cent. trade union membership shops still continue. The reason is that people know the value of union membership. If anyone working in a factory or shop did not know that value he would only have to read the Government's Green Paper, "Removing Barriers to Employment", which clearly showed that in closed shop employment, wages were anything between 10 and 30 per cent. higher than those elsewhere. So there is some value in a closed shop, and workers should realise that. When the Bill leaks out, closed shops will be springing up throughout the country. More important, workers will recognise the value of trade unions when they get into trouble with their employers. Many hon. Members on both sides have had the experience of constituents coming to their advice surgeries with a problem connected with work. I will bet that Conservative Members ask the same first question as we do, "Are you a member of a trade union?" Nine times out of 10, the answer is no. They come to the surgery because they are not members. If they had been, we all know that they would not have needed to come, because the union would have resolved their problem.
I repeat the point made earlier : if membership or non-membership of a union is no longer to be relevant to the recruitment of labour, and if it is to be illegal for an employer to take into account membership or non- membership when selecting applicants for a job, the holding of information on people by anti-union organisations for the specific purpose of influencing their employment prospects should be not only irrelevant but no longer legal. I hope that the Government will be forced by their Bill to concede that point. If one result of the Bill is to put a stop to the sinister activities of the Economic League and the like, we will welcome it, although it will undoubtedly come as an unexpected, unintentioned and unwelcome surprise to Tory Members.
During the passage of the Employment Act 1988 we opposed the creation of a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members, or CROTUM for short. That would be a rather unfortunate acronym if we ever got a senior commissioner for the rights of trade union members. We opposed the office on the grounds that it was unnecessary, provocative and expensive. As it turns out, we were right on all three counts.
The budget set for the functioning of that office was £1.5 million a year. The commissioner has taken up 31 cases, some of which were of doubtful validity.
However, the commissioner has had to justify her existence and salary, as we predicted. The provisions in clause 8 demonstrate how badly she has failed even to manufacture enough work to justify her existence, to say nothing of her £1.5 million budget. To avoid an embarrassing admission of wasting public money, the Government decided to help her by extending her responsibilities and building her empire. We would welcome an extension of the responsibilities of the
Column 83commissioner if it allowed trade unionists to refer to her their complaints about their employer, not just their union but, again, that does not appear to suit Tory dogma.
The post was designed in the first place to harass trade unions by encouraging action against them. The further provisions in this Bill are clearly intended to encourage further mischief and harassment. No other organisation has the dubious distinction of having a special commissioner paid for by the taxpayer with the express purpose of supporting actions against it. Such is the extremity of the Government's prejudices.
By far the most objectionable aspect of the Bill is the intention, once again, to weaken the hand of the employee and to strengthen the hand of the employer. The proposals on secondary and unofficial action are reminiscent of the totalitarian eastern bloc Governments who are now on the wane, and display ignorance or carelessness or both on the part of the Tory party.
Unofficial action is usually a spontaneous event, inflamed by a sudden happening and of short duration. The Green Paper, "Unofficial Action and the Law", cites the case of a manager attacking an employee physically, which resulted in a walk-out by colleagues. The Green Paper then assumes that the fault lies with the employees, not the manager, whereas it was the manager's action which gave rise to the situation and the subsequent loss of production. Under the Bill, those workers are liable to be sacked lawfully by that same manager, with no right to redress for unfair dismissal. Where is the justice or even-handedness in that?
If that is not bad enough, the trade union to which the workers belong will be open to prosecution by the employer unless it repudiates the actions of its members, although it may believe that their action was justified in all the circumstances. Such one-sided, draconian measures have no part in modern industrial relations. They can lead only to inflammation of otherwise resoluble incidents. They will, as all perceived injustice does, cause anger and resentment, possibly leading to ugly confrontations and irreversible damage to industrial harmony.
The Green Paper makes much of the lost production caused by unofficial action. It states that an annual average of 3.6 million days are lost through all industrial action. No figures are given for unofficial action. I want to be generous to the Government's case, so I shall estimate that 2 million days are lost in that way. It is probably an exaggeration, but it helps their case. Are the Government seriously suggesting that those 2 million days lost pose such a massive threat to the economy? We have only to examine the statistics to find out.
At present, the work force is about 25 million people, which is equal to 125 million working days every five-day working week, or 5, 750 million working days in a 46-working week year, if we are generous and assume six weeks' holiday. On those figures the number of working days lost in unofficial strikes amounts to less than one thirtieth of 1 per cent. of the total working days. That is what paragraph 1.2 of the Green Paper describes as a
"substantial amount of unofficial action".
Paragraph 1.1 suggests that the elimination of that will make a "vital contribution to the improvement of our economy." What rubbish.
Column 84If the Government are concerned about the effect of the number of working days lost on the economy, why do they not turn their attention to the 10 million days lost every year through accidents at work? Why not promote good working conditions and good working practices to reduce that figure which is more than 250 per cent. of the number of days lost through all industrial action? No, this Government have presided over a worsening situation in that regard. Indeed, they have even suggested that the imposition of further regulations could be a barrier to business or employment. If the Government are motivated by damage to the economy caused by days lost from work, why do they not turn their attention to days lost through sickness, which total 300 million a year, which is nearly 100 times the number of days lost by all industrial action? Why do they not improve health screening and health education, invest more in our ailing Health Service or even pay the ambulance crews? In short, if it is the health of the economy which motivates the Government to examine days lost from work, why do they ignore the major causes and attack the most insignificant in terms of numbers? The answer is that this has nothing to do with the economy. The complete elimination of all industrial action by chaining workers to their desks and benches would hardly register in terms of the totality of working days in this country. The elimination of strikes under such a system, however, would probably be used by Tory Members as evidence of good industrial relations.
This is about the use of Parliament, not to improve the welfare of people or to improve industrial relations, but to pursue unceasingly the political opponents of the Tory party until, as the Prime Minister put it, her main political opponents are "abolished" and Britain becomes a one party Government and she becomes the Ceausescu of Chequers and the dictator of Downing street.
While the call in East Germany, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Poland is for the promotion of free, independent trade unions able to take both industrial and political action--the latter even applauded by the Prime Minister--in Britain, the state is busy shackling the unions and restricting the very freedoms so eagerly sought in the East. In tandem, while the cry in the East is for freedom of political action and expression, in Britain the Government are introducing legislation which creates politically restricted posts in public office so that people are denied political freedom if they are to keep their jobs. Solidarity trade unionists in Poland now have more freedom than trade unionists in Britain.
The Bill is further evidence of the totalitarian tendencies of the Government. It does nothing for freedom, industrial relations or the image of life in Britain in an increasingly free world. It should be decisively rejected by all those who cherish the freedoms for which our country fought so hard, and in the fight for which the trade union movement played such a principal part.
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : This has been an extremely interesting debate. It has highlighted many of the serious and real differences in attitude between the Opposition and the Government on industrial relations. The most interesting speech, because it was the clearest
Column 85and represented most significantly the traditional Labour view of industrial relations, was that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I should like to rebut some of the elements in his speech.
One's attitude towards priorities in industrial relations and the industrial scene as a whole inevitably depends on one's experiences. The hon. Gentleman described his experiences as a shop steward in Liverpool. Equally, each of us must look at what formed our opinions. I had the good fortune to become involved in industrial relations law soon after I qualified as a solicitor which was when the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 came into force
For many years, I have been actively involved with Conservative Trade Unionists, and I am now its vice-president. Since coming to the House in 1983, I have served on the Committees of most industrial relations Bills. I hope to serve on the Committee of this Bill, so I shall leave detailed comments on its provisions until then. This evening I want to deal with the strategy behind the Bill. Much of the debate thus far has been a recitation of history and how we have arrived at our current position. If we put back the timescale far enough, I would be in broad consent with many of the points made by Opposition Members. If there is no alternative to collective bargaining for someone on the shop floor to enforce his rights, obviously that is the right way forward. I do not think that anyone who has been faced with the cases described in times past would deny that as a basic proposition. The difference between my view and that expressed by many Opposition Members is that I believe that there have been dramatic movements forward in recent years. The Opposition's rhetoric always goes deep into distant history, to the communal memories spawned by the 1930s and before ; they then carry those forward to present--day circumstances, even though the reality is quite different.
There has been a great sea change in industrial relations, which began not in 1979 but with the ill-fated Industrial Relations Act 1971. The one part of that Act which survived, and which has been of fundamental importance, was that relating to unfair dismissal. Anyone reviewing the industrial developments since 1945 must recognise that one of the great difficulties was that industrial action disrupted industrial production and that many of those industrial disputes related to dismissal. A consensus evolved during the late 1960s in favour of a statutory framework of law to deal with individual rights, and the relevant provision in the 1971 Act has stuck.
I do not think that many Opposition Members appreciate the extent to which the introduction of really important individual rights would fuel the appetite of workers on the shop floor for more rights, or the growing competition that it created between the exercise of those individual rights and the concept of collective action. The unfair dismissal provisions, once they had been assimilated, had one immediate and dramatic impact : whereas dismissals leading to strikes had been commonplace, they became a relative rarity. They have had an even more important and profound impact in that they have shaped the way in which companies have developed their procedures for management. I clearly remember many employers in the 1970s talking of unfair dismissal and echoing almost to the letter the words used tonight by Opposition Members about the role of the law in dealing
Column 86with strikes. They said that it was impossible to bring the law into industrial relations, that it would not work, that it would be too complex, that it would be a benefit match for lawyers and that no discernible benefits would flow for industrial relations. I have always argued, and I see no reason to take a different view now, that unfair dismissal rights and the other individual rights that have followed have created an alternative to bringing out a work force on strike to protect an individual's position. It meant that companies, once they understood the regulations, could steer a route through what was previously an industrial relations minefield. The number of applications to industrial tribunals for unfair dismissal have fallen significantly, and the number of strikes caused by dismissal has completely fallen away. I accept that there was a time when the law was unclear, but once people addressed themselves to what the law required and to the route that they had to follow in disciplinary matters, the whole industrial relations scene improved significantly.
The provisions in this and in previous Bills relating to strikes, the circumstances in which they can take place and the manner in which they can be conducted will have precisely the same effect in signposting a route for industrial action that means that it does not happen at the drop of a hat but is considered action that carries a great deal more weight because it is clear that it has the support of the shop floor.
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : I have been following the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The issue of unfair dismissal was not first highlighted in the Conservative legislation of 1971. During the 1966-70 Parliament, I introduced two Bills under the ten-minute rule to set up tribunals to deal with unfair dismissal.
Mr. Batiste : The hon. Gentleman should read Hansard tomorrow. I acknowledged that the development of unfair dismissal rights evolved from a consensus that was by no means confined to any one party. That probably explains why it was the one part of the 1971 Act that stuck and that had such a profound impact in the years to follow. Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) rose--
Mr. Watson : It is important that the record is set straight. The hon. Gentleman said that the number of unfair dismissal cases being taken to industrial tribunals had been significantly reduced. However, that is the result of the way that the legislation has changed. When the Conservative Government took office, claims could be made after six months. That was then lengthened to one year and then to two years. Fewer people now have the ability to make such claims, which is why the number has been significantly reduced.
Mr. Batiste : The hon. Gentleman should study the figures, as I have done. The main reason why the number of claims for unfair dismissal has fallen is that, when the legislation was new, many employers did not know what was expected of them, many decisions to dismiss were taken arbitrarily and many were procedurally incorrect. With the development of experience of what was
Column 87permissible within the law, the incidence of successful findings for unfair dismissal has diminished because of the dramatically improved procedures throughout industry.
The development of the unfair dismissal legislation has signposted the way in which the rule of law within industrial relations can have a positive effect in showing routes that actually work, that minimise industrial disputes and that are of lasting industrial benefit. That will carry across, in exactly the same way, into clearer legal definitions of strike action and of the circumstances and the manner in which such strike action can take place.
Even more important than the immediate results of that change has been the way that it has encouraged a new approach to industrial relations and the rights of individuals on the shop floor. One of the growing disputes between the Opposition and the Government has been the way in which the interaction between individual rights and collective action should function, when many aspects of individual protection that hitherto had no redress in law are now met by the law. That is a considerable problem for the Labour party because, inherently, it is about collective action, whereas protection of individual rights is very much associated with the Conservative party.
It has been said several times during the debate that the Bill is a turning point in the step-by-step approach to industrial relations reform. I agree, but I hope that it is not an end to the programme. Most of the 1979 agenda that Conservative Trade Unionists presented to the Government has now been enacted. The closed shop will now end. However, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to recognise that there are closed shops that exist by law but that there are also closed shops that exist by intimidation by a number of employers. I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to address the situation in respect of certain local authorities where every conceivable step is taken to force people into joining a trade union. Those closed shops are just as much a fact of life as are legal closed shops, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not lose sight of that fact.
It has been said that we have come to a turning point in the step-by-step approach. We must look to the future and recognise what has to be done to build upon the things that we have achieved. The step-by-step approach has been very successful in changing industrial relations attitudes. Indeed, it has changed the whole industrial relations environment. Our approach to legislation now is not just to look back at the 1979 agenda but to recognise that in 1990 things have changed. We have to look forward to the last decade of this century and the first decade of the next century and to reflect that approach in our attitudes to legislation on trade union reform and on industrial relations reform in general.
How can the individual rights that I have described grow and gain even greater strength in the context of trade unions? I believe that in two important respects we have to go further--going with the grain of individual rights. I hope in Committee to table amendments dealing with both points, so I will refer to them only very briefly tonight. First, there is the question of trade union mergers. I am not sure that I agree with the comments that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). In the United Kingdom the current trend is
Column 88towards large general unions, to unions breaking away in cases of dispute, to considerable growth in non-TUC affiliated unions, and year by year to contraction of TUC-affiliated unions.
If the individual industrial rights that have been created are to grow and prosper, we must create a competitive framework within the trade union world in which they can operate. I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that, thus far, the need in the United Kingdom has been for the merger of unions. Even now there is a need for further mergers, but all the evidence from around the world of the tendency of organisations to move towards monopolies suggests that, if the process continues without check, we will move towards a relatively small number of very large general unions that are relatively remote from their members. I question whether that is a healthy or sensible way to proceed. The necessary corollary of individual rights is that there should be choice against which people may exercise their judgment and that unions should be responsible and responsive to what their individual members say.
At this stage, we ought to be considering whether some legislation comparable to the companies legislation on monopolies and mergers should be put in place. I make no recommendation as to what that should be. The use of the commissioner in this role may be the best way forward, but it would be better to look at this issue before the realities of the industrial relations world force it upon us. If people are to have real choice, they must be given real options. That leads me to the second area which my right hon. Friend should consider. I refer to the anti-poaching provisions of the Bridlington agreement. I shall not take up the time of the House by quoting the regulations
Mrs. Mahon : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member addressing himself to the Bill? It seems to me that, in talking about the anti-poaching provisions of the Bridlington agreement, he is going into the question of some future Bill about which he is thinking.
Clause 1 refers to the right of people either to join or not to join trade unions. The point that I am making is quite simply that that choice is inadequate ; people must have the option also to join the union of their choice. It is in that respect that I propose to table amendments for consideration at Committee stage.
Let me refer to two examples that were widely quoted in the press last year. Airline cabin staff approached the British Airline Pilots Association with a view to joining because they disagreed with the attitude, philosophy and tendencies of the Transport and General Workers Union. The Bridlington agreement was invoked, and the cabin staff were barred by the Trades Union Congress from membership of BALPA, despite the fact that that union would have been quite happy to accept them.
A similar case that achieved widespread publicity related to shop workers-- members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers--who disagreed fundamentally with the position that their union had taken on
Column 89Sunday trading and wanted to join GMB. USDAW approached the TUC and blocked the transfer of its members to GMB.
If individual rights are to mean anything, it will be in circumstances in which individual members of a trade union in disagreement with their union over policy have the right to transfer to a union that more accurately reflects their hopes and aspirations. That is not an anti-union point. I believe profoundly that competition between unions for members is the most effective way of implementing change in a rapidly changing world.
As we have seen all too often, the difficulty about unions is their very slow response to change. We have seen this in relation to flexibility in working practices, and we have seen it in relation to single union agreements. Dundee has been mentioned many times today. The essential way of speeding up that process of change would be to give to individual members of unions rights similar to those that exist for consumers of services of any other kind.
The Bridlington principles would not be allowed to exist in respect of any other aspect of British industry, and I question whether they should be allowed to exist in the context of trade unions. However, I agree fully with the comment of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the necessary corollary is that demarcation dispute strikes must be made unlawful.
I have argued this evening for a way of enhancing the framework in which healthy competition for members is an engine for union change. That that change is needed is not in dispute. I believe that it is not disputed seriously even by members of the Opposition. Industrially, we are moving into an era of collaborative management because the successful companies will be the ones that handle their industrial relations well. Bad industrial relations will drive out incompetent companies--and quite properly so--but the corollary of collaborative management is skill and flexibility on the part of unions--skill and flexibility based upon the sure knowledge that they are carrying their members with them without coercion because those members agree with what their unions are doing and can see that it is individually to their interests to follow.
It is therefore with considerable pleasure that I welcome this Bill and the substantial completion of the 1979 agenda. However, I urge upon my right hon. Friend the necessary corollary, which is to look forward and see how we can build upon the successful foundations that have now been laid.