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Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : I see, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the tradition of the 1980s is being carried into the 1990s : when I am called to speak in the House, it is usually because you are in the Chair.
Other hon. Members on the Opposition side wish to speak, so I shall be brief. However, I reserve the right to deal in Committee with lots of matters that have been referred to today. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is not in his place, as I would have congratulated him on accepting voluntary redundancy from the Cabinet-- though on more generous terms than are enjoyed by most people in industry.
The reality of this piece of legislation is not so much the Secretary of State's argument about tyranny and about freedom. Indeed, it is rich, in the first place, that it should come from the Minister who introduced the poll tax
Column 90legislation--one of the most tyrannical and unfair pieces of legislation in this century. His speech was all about the freedom of employers to take action against trade unionists and unions--not so much a step-by-step approach as a bit-by-bit attack on trade unionists and their organisations.
The Bill is really about undermining the ability of unions to secure excellent working conditions, proper training, the right to collective action, and the facility to work alongside union officials when taking official or unofficial action. The Bill is also aimed at prohibiting unions from operating in areas where trade unionism has hitherto not been strong.
As a result of Britain's employment pattern in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, unions are looking to non-traditional areas for their membership. The Government are attempting to prohibit the extension of trade unionism in that way. The Bill is not so much about closed shop arrangements as about the ability of management to manipulate trade unions, by crippling their ability to organise in the workplace.
In many debates over the past few years, the Government have often spoken of the principle of a level playing field. They used it in relation to private sector housing, the balance between public and private transport, deregulation of old people's homes--when they gave subsidies of about £1 billion to make it easier for people to open homes in the private sector--pensions provision, and even refuse collection. That principle of a level playing field has been introduced in every area except industrial relations, where it would give people the right to take action individually and collectively to protect themselves.
The Government abolished the fair wages clause, and they have an abysmal record of vocational training. The Government also abolished wages councils so that young, unskilled and disabled workers can easily be exploited. The only bodies capable of preventing that were the wages councils, but the Government chose to destroy them.
Mr. McCartney : No, I shall not do so--not least because the hon. Gentleman has not been present in the Chamber the whole evening. I prefer to allow other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to speak. On any other occasion I shall be happy to debate with the hon. Gentleman his unfair attitude towards trade unions and working people. We have heard it all before from him, and I do not intend to hear it all again this evening.
The Government have also restricted worker representation at tribunals. Whereas they introduced measures allowing employers to take trade unions to court, unions wishing to take employers to court are severely restricted by Government legislation. Under the present Government, 10 million working days have been lost through industrial injury, yet the resources of the Health and Safety Executive have been reduced time and again. At the same time, no legislation exists to protect workers against unfair dismissal.
The Government's training schemes are the biggest scandal of all. Young workers live in a twilight world of low wages, little or no training, exploitation, and virtually no health and safety provision. That is the Government's record of level playing fields in industrial relations.
As to responsibility for unofficial action, I shall give three examples of workers legitimately taking action to
Column 91protect themselves and other workers that would be the subject of crippling penalties under the Bill, were they to be repeated in future. Twelve months ago in my own constituency, two workers at a factory collapsed with heart attacks caused by zinc poisoning. Attempts by the work force to persuade management to bring in the Health and Safety Executive and the alkali inspectorate to take action about the conditions in the factory were rejected.The workers walked out for their own safety. Within 30 minutes of taking that action, they were sacked. Under the Bill, workers taking similar action will find themselves hauled up before a court by their unscrupulous employer.
So far this year, five workers have been killed on the Channel tunnel construction site. Despite efforts by the trade unions and the Health and Safety Executive, the employers have done little to improve safety. Under the Bill, Channel tunnel workers taking unofficial action will render their unions liable to unfair court penalties. On some sites it is necessary for workers to take action against sub-contractors for reasons of health and safety. Again, under the Bill, unions will be liable for any such action. I refer also to the National Union of Seamen members working for P and O Ferries who took action after the bow door incident because of the company's appalling safety record, and who were summarily dismissed. They were fighting not for increased wages but for their safety and that of their passengers on the Channel routes. The Government will also make such action illegal.
A fortnight ago, the British Leyland Volvo manager jetted in to Manchester airport from Sweden and informed the work force that 400 of them would be down the road in 14 days. Later that day, union members took action in support of their right to negotiate their redundancy terms. I presume that under the Bill, those members individually and their union could be taken to court.
I refer also to sexual harassment at work by unscrupulous employers and-- unfortunately, on occasions--by other employees. A female who walks off the job to escape sexual harassment and to prevent some pervert from continuing to molest her could be taken to court along with her trade union if the very employer guilty of molesting her decides to take that action. Such cases are not isolated. I know of a young girl who was molested by her employer. Her mother came to me because the girl was too frightened to report the matter to the police or the Training Agency. She was too frightened to speak out because that job was her only hope of employment. Any union taking unofficial action over sexual harassment of its members will also be liable to court action.
The Bill is a tacky piece of legislation and the latest in a long line of Government activities designed to undermine trade unionists and their unions. Intellectually, the Government find trade unionism incompatible with the type of society that they wish to create. They want to see in the 1990s a society in which young people are on training schemes or in low- paid work with no opportunity to organise themselves and to take collective action to improve their working conditions and health and safety at work.
When the Minister winds up, it will be useful if he replies to the telling points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about blacklisting and
Column 92the Economic League. If the Government are serious about individual and trade union rights, the Minister will give a promise that the Government will introduce amendments to the Bill to outlaw the activities of organisations such as the Economic League.
The Minister does not need to look far for evidence. Its blacklist includes myself and other right hon. and hon. Members. I was on the dole for three years because of that organisation's activities after I organised an attempt to secure trade union recognition. I could not find a job in the industry in which I had been working.
Organisations such as the Economic League are a blot on our democratic society and should be outlawed. I hope that the Minister will reassure the thousands of workers who are unfairly blacklisted and who may consequently lose their right to work, not just for a few days or weeks but for year after year because of such eastern European, Stasi-type organisations. Their days should be numbered, and the Minister can ensure that they are by amending the Bill in Committee.
There is much to be done in Committee, and if the Minister thinks that he will get off lightly, given the attitude of Conservative Back Benchers and Opposition Front Benchers, he has another think coming. We shall welcome the opportunity to use the Bill to test the Government's intentions in relation to individual trade unions rights, the European Community and the wider role of trade unionists throughout Britain. We shall table positive amendments to improve the Bill, and to test the Government : let us hope that the Minister is not found wanting.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) in his place. He is the storm trooper of the unions, and he and I have debated the issue once or twice in the past.
I apologise for having been absent for about an hour and a half this evening ; I had a long-standing arrangement to participate in a debate on the Broadcasting Bill in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. At one stage, members of the audience were asked to raise their hands if they worked in broadcasting--in other words, if they had a vested interest. A number raised their hands, and several of those then spoke in favour of their industry.
I could do the same here : I could ask Opposition Members to raise their hands if they were sponsored by a trade union. Some 50 per cent. of Labour Members are sponsored by unions, and it is therefore in their interests not to go against the arguments of those unions and not to allow their power to be diluted. I do not object to hon. Members having such vested interests ; I make the point only to put into context Labour's opposition to any moves that the Government make on the trade union front.
As we know, it was the last Labour Government who effectively enshrined the closed shop within employment law, and it was the abuse of that legal entity by over-mighty and over-powerful trade unions that--more than anything else--encouraged my interest in politics. Then, as now, I regarded the closed shop as a gross infringement of individual rights, and I welcome the Bill as another of the extensions of basic human freedom that have been behind so many of the Government's actions over the past 11 years.
Column 93I also welcome the Labour party's apparent conversion to the belief that people should be free to make up their own minds whether or not to belong to a trade union. I believe, however, that that conversion is only skin deep, and that it owes more to electoral considerations than to a genuine change of opinion. Just as the Polish people would be wise not to trust the new, as yet unnamed, successor to the Communist party that was proclaimed over the weekend--because the new players in the new party will no doubt prove to be the old players in the old party, with the same Communist beliefs--so the British people would be wise not to take at face value the supposed conversion of Labour to the primacy of individual rights over collectivist trade union action.
At least a number of Opposition Members are honest enough not to go along with the sham propounded by their Front Benchers. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on making their beliefs entirely clear in an early-day motion. They believe that the closed shop should exist, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of Opposition Members feel the same : they help to remind us that a streak of authoritarian trade union collectivism is alive and well in the Labour party.
The House may be amused to learn about the Morning Star's approach to the issue. I understand that Opposition Members occasionally read that organ, and even make occasional contributions to it. On 11 October last year, the paper described
"the three-pronged attack on workers' rights".
It continued :
"The labour and trade union movement has to take up the challenge. The further attempt to screw down working people must be resisted all the way."
It is interesting to contrast that with what the paper had said on 3 October, under the headline, "Soviet MPs legalise right to strike" :
"Soviet MPs passed a law yesterday legalising the right to strike except in key industries including power and rail.
It is the first time in Soviet legislation",
the Morning Star blandly reported,
"that the right to strike has been enshrined.
The exceptions--which include also civil aviation, city transport, communications, defence and law and order bodies--were clearly regarded by practically all deputies as necessary in the present grave economic situation According to the new law, it will be up to the courts to decide whether a strike is legal or not after it has been declared.
What on earth would be the reaction of the Morning Star if the British Government had, for instance, declared all transport or telecommunications strikes illegal? That is a clear demonstration of the hypocrisy of the political Left in this country.
One wonders whether anything has really changed, and whether the Labour party is really no longer in the pockets of the trade unions. Labour would end the sequestration of trade union funds, thereby making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for courts to collect fines imposed on trade unions. It seems that Labour is still prepared to allow secondary picketing, and perhaps--who knows?--mass secondary picketing at that. We must remember that the party is financed largely by unions, and therefore cannot really afford not to do what it is told by them. I found the performance of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) extremely unconvincing, and I do not believe that he or his colleagues have experienced a conversion at all.
I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to his new role ; I hope,
Column 94however, that he will forgive me if I contradict his reported comment on his appointment, that this was likely to be the last Employment Bill. A number of significant improvements remain to be made to employment law. The Bill would not, in fact, make the closed shop illegal, although it would make it unenforceable.
My local council, Kirklees metropolitan district council, currently has a union membership agreement--that is, a closed shop--with five trade unions. Nothing in the Bill would force Kirklees to tear up that agreement. While I would not expect it to try to enforce the agreement--I say that rather optimistically, but none the less in good faith--it would still be there for the trade unions to use when trying to persuade, cajole or mislead non- union employees to join the union. In such circumstances, many people tend to join just for a quiet life, and are not prepared to go to a tribunal, as the Bill would require.
Mr. Riddick : I can give the hon. Gentleman an example. Constituents have approached me about the problem and have asked for my help and support. I was able to point out that Kirklees council is unable legally to enforce a closed shop agreement.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman another example of people acquiescing in such circumstances. That is what happened after NALGO's strike last year.
Mr. Ian Bruce : I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that Kirklees Labour council members became involved with the unions above the heads of their employers to ensure that the union closed shop agreement was introduced ahead of Government legislation. Those poor workers were forced into unions, although the vast majority of them did not want to be union members.
Mr. Riddick : I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He knows a good deal about Kirklees council. He lived in Huddersfield. When Labour party members hammered out the agreement with the trade unions, they did not bother, even once, to talk to individual trade unionists and ask them whether it was what they wanted. They talked to the trade union leaders but not to the individual members.
After last year's strike, individual NALGO shop stewards cajoled and threatened a significant number of NALGO members who did not strike in an effort to persuade them to leave the union. That directly contravened section 3 of the Employment Act 1988. A number of such cases have gone to industrial tribunals. Compensation has been awarded against NALGO. However, the majority of people, when so requested, have acquiesced.
People find it difficult to put their heads above the parapet and take their case to a tribunal. They have never appeared before a tribunal. Even if they have a cast-iron case, they are reluctant to take it to a tribunal. They opt for a quiet life. We may have to tighten the closed shop legislation so that unscrupulous employers--in particular, some Labour- controlled local authorities and intimidatory trade unions--cannot exploit the loopholes that will certainly exist, even after the Bill becomes law.
Those who feel that they have suffered discrimination at the hands of a closed shop employer should have the right to ask the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members to provide advice and assistance. I draw to the attention of the House a letter that I received today from
Column 95some people who are very concerned about the provision that employers should not discriminate against individual people because of union membership. Mr. Pollard and Mr. Bruce say in their letter : "Our lives centre around the Lords' Supper and the Scriptures which contain many references to Masters having direct relationships with their employees and the need to be separate from other associations Consequently we do not employ members of trade unions or professional associations, likewise we do not join employers associations, nor do we negotiate with these bodies we would appeal for provision to be made so that we might be able to continue with a clear conscience in this way. If the Government were hesitant about providing a general conscience clause, perhaps a provision at tribunal stage could be considered".
A few of my hon. Friends intervened during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. He said that he would consider the point. It certainly deserves to be considered.
One abuse is not tackled by the Bill, which I understand is still fairly widely practised. Union members in a number of industries, notably the docks, demand to see a lorry driver's union card before he is allowed to unload his cargo. I have received a number of complaints from the managers and employees of transport companies. They have complained bitterly that they have to belong to a union, usually the Transport and General Workers Union, if they are to obtain contracts as hauliers. I am not sure whether such a practice is covered by the existing employment law. If it is, the law needs to be strengthened and more clearly defined, since this gross abuse of trade union power continues.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has an important part to play in industrial disputes, but its terms of reference have not changed since the Employment Protection Act 1975. That Act placed a duty on ACAS
"of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining." That means the encouragement of trade union membership. The role of ACAS should be wholly neutral. The reference to encouraging the extension of collective bargaining should be struck out.
The 1990s will see markets both in this country and worldwide becoming more open and competitive. It is vital, therefore, that all sectors of British industry should operate at maximum efficiency and with the minimum of restrictive practices. The public sector should no longer be sheltered, as it still is, by over-powerful unions and managers without the tools to tackle the problems. Britain's rigid labour market is characterised by central bargaining and traditional systems of pay negotiations that do not properly reward individual performance. That stifles new methods of working and attempts to improve productivity. The dispute in the ambulance service, together with last year's dispute on London Underground and on London buses and British Rail, are classic examples.
Changes to the way in which these organisations are run will come about as a direct result of policy decisions and management implementation, but it is likely that such changes will not be brought about unless more liberalising reforms in the employment law are introduced in the years to come.
The Bill is another important step in this Government's brilliantly successful step-by-step approach to reforming the industrial relations law. The changes have been brought about in the face of relentless and often venomous
Column 96opposition by the Labour party. The reforms have played a highly significant role in Britain's economic and industrial regeneration during the last 11 years. I fear that they will not be the last reforms that will be necessary if we are to be fully competitive with our industrial competitors. However, I am delighted to add my strong support for this Bill to that of my colleagues.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : I am not a supporter of mandatory closed shops and I am not a sponsored Member of Parliament. However, I come from a community which has always had a high trade union membership because its members believe in the principles of trade unionism. Compunction to join a trade union is always a poor second to the desire to belong to a trade union because of what it stands for.
I am deeply concerned about and unhappy with certain clauses, especially clauses 6 and 7, which extend the liability of union members in tort of certain actions. Trade unions have a constructive role to play in society and they have played that role even in the most fractious of industries. Certainly in the past decade there has been no more fractious industry than the coal industry. Yet in my experience the management in the coal industry, like that in many other industries, prefers to deal with the representatives of a disciplined and organised work force than with a work force that displays anarchy and is willing to take action wherever and whenever it feels like it.
Trade unions, from their national executives to individual shop stewards, frequently play a most constructive role in the production process. Unions are and always have been part of the disciplinary machinery of large sections of British industry. I am sure that some Conservative Members understand that role--I wish that more of them did. They will also understand that even the most disciplined trade unionist may find himself or herself carried along by the sheer force of events, whether inspired by a perceived injustice or by any one of a thousand combinations of circumstances. Clauses 6 and 7 seek to discover and punish scapegoats in those cases.
The Minister knows that the right to strike is an individual and not a collective one. He knows that trade unions give the individual right to strike practical application. Trade unions were forced to allow combinations of individuals--free-born men and women--to band together to help redress the imbalance that dominated industrial relations.
For most of this century, legislation by Governments of all political shades has recognised the role of those in trade unions who are chosen by their fellows to act as spokespersons and local organisers--a task which is frequently difficult and thankless and requires more than a little personal courage as well as ability. One of the most astute and courageous trade union leaders this century was the late Will Paynter, whose analyses of industrial relations in the late 1960s led him to be criticised as frequently by the so-called Left as by the self-proclaimed Right. He once told me in the midst of the most bitter and damaging post-war strikes in Britain that, while it can take some courage and ability to order men and women out on strike, it takes infinitely more courage to order them back to work when it looks as though the tactical worth of a strike has become exhausted or redundant.
Column 97Clauses 6 and 7 threaten to take away even the fragile protection of existing legislation from men and women who are local trade union officials. The clauses threaten to undermine one of the central pillars of responsible and valuable trade unionism. No one in his or her right mind will put himself forward for a trade union position if, as a result of unofficial industrial action which he may have opposed in the first place, he finds himself at the wrong end of the law.
There may be those in the Government who rejoice at such a prospect, but I fear that theirs will prove an extremely limited prospective, for they will be undermining a central pillar of that often fragile platform on which industrial harmony is based. Ironically, I suspect that any sense of triumphalism which may be evident among the Government will be shared only by the nutters who occasionally surface in the trade union movement claiming that all strikes are good strikes. All strikes are not good strikes, but it makes no sense to use scattergun legislation to control irresponsibility. It will injure and destroy precisely those elements in the trade union movement that bring to the movement a sense of discipline and industrial perspective which all industries and services desire. Instead of encouraging and enhancing the spirit of democracy and responsibility, the clauses will promote demagogy and
anarchy--qualities which have a nasty habit of surfacing within work forces in which a sense of order has been replaced by disillusionment and helplessness. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider again the likely long-term implications of the clauses becoming law. 9.4 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : I am saddened when I listen to Labour Members dealing with industrial and employment matters. I well remember the days of strife when the Labour Government experienced great difficulty in the governance of the land because of problems with unofficial action and discord in industry. That was harmful not only to the Government and the people but to trade union members, who were often used as the tools of extremists. I well remember as a young industrial engineer that often young people who were brought out on strike by extremists were unsure why they were on strike and returned to work after about a week disillusioned about why their leadership had called the strike. I have always welcomed the sensible step-by-step approach of the Government in bringing industrial relations into the 1990s.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick)--as one of his constituents I had the great honour of voting for him when he was first elected to this place--congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. I recall serving on the Committee which considered the Employment Bill of 1988. Many Conservative Members told my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that the closed shop legislation would not be sufficient to deal with the problem.
I cannot understand any hon. Member saying that people should not be allowed to follow their calling because they do not have a trade union card. It is difficult to get into the acting profession or to work in the docks
Column 98without trade union sponsorship. No Labour Member, bearing in mind the fairness of treatment of individuals, could disagree with that. Mrs. Mahon rose --
The closed shop works against the rights of the individual. I was pleased to see the chink in the armour of Labour employment spokesmen when we were debating the social charter. They were willing to embrace not only the right of everyone to belong to the trade union of their choice--as an employer, I have always believed that people should have such a choice--but their right not to be a member of a trade union.
I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will state the Labour party's policy more clearly than the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who hedged on the issue. People join a trade union for the extra benefits that membership offers and because it will fight for them. However, one must have the right to say, "I do not want the union to fight on my behalf," or, "I do not like the way that it is doing it." Such a right should be supported by all hon. Members.
Clause 2, which deals with employment agencies, is interesting. I must admit that until I had read the Bill I had not realised that the Government were aware of the abuses that occur. Having spoken to my right hon. and hon. Friends, I still am not sure whether they fully understand those abuses. I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire, and I was extremely surprised to discover that one company--I shall not mention its name as my information may be two or three years out of date and it may have changed its methods--gave trade union membership forms to all those who filled in an application for temporary work. Applicants were clearly told that they could not be taken on by that company unless they became a member of a trade union.
Perhaps that in itself was not so worrying, but there is another side to the story. I was asked by one company to set up an employment agency dealing with drivers. We were told that we would have the co-operation of the trade union involved, the Transport and General Workers Union, as long as we signed up not only every driver we sent to the company as a member of the TGWU--admittedly, that was not too difficult, because most of the drivers wanted to be members--but all our staff.
Even that would not have been so harmful, were it not for the fact that the members whom we were signing up and from whom we were taking subscriptions were not getting any rights in exchange. Negotiations took place between the temporary driver controller and the trade union ; there was no real negotiation between drivers and the management of the company. Once the trade union got the money--to my mind, protection money--Bos-Recruitment could send the drivers without harassment from the rest of the trade union.
I submit that that was a harmful way for a trade union to use its rights. By all means let the union ask for rights to organise my temporary drivers if it was prepared to give those drivers their negotiating rights, but it was not interested in that. It was interested only in the money that it could take from our company in return for giving us an
Column 99okay--the assurance that it would not cause us any problems provided that we signed up all our people. Clause 2 is an interesting and long overdue clause.
Clauses 4 to 7 will help to prevent unofficial industrial action. People tend to say that the Bill is an employer's charter and helps only employers. But often it is the ordinary trade unionist whose life is ruined --the person on a low income who lives from one pay cheque to the next. He is the person likely to suffer most. Often companies involved in a dispute cannot help such workers. They find that some form of secondary action is taking place and they cannot get rid of it. Although the changes in this respect are marginal, they are to be welcomed. The provision that introduced a tribunal to look after trade union members' rights was also a fairly marginal proposal, but, clearly, if even one individual is not being supported by his trade union and needs to take action against it, we ought to support that person.
Clause 12 is interesting, and I am surprised that the Government have not gone further with it. I hope that they will consider the matter carefully in Committee. To my mind, work experience represents an important way of showing schoolchildren what they are likely to encounter when they leave school. The technical and vocational education initiative has allowed schoolchildren to see what the working environment looks like. I see no reason why we should not have work experience for children from the age of five onwards. If there is any stop in law to allowing schools to set up work experience schemes appropriate to children's needs, it should be removed. To say that children may undertake work experience only from the last term of the first year of their GCSE course is to limit their opportunities to benefit from it.
Two of my children are engaged in GCSE courses, one in the first year and the other in the second year. I am aware of the difficulties that face schools with the requirement to fit in all the aspects of the national curriculum and also find time for work experience. Properly supervised work experience at the behest of the school should be available to children at an early age, and I believe that the school and the governors are best able to judge those matters. Many children leave school at 16 or 18 years of age without experiencing a week of real work.
The Bill is good and it follows on from other Conservative employment legislation which has primarily looked after the interests of workers. By doing that, Conservative employment legislation has been good for them and has ensured that there is peace for the employers and for the trade unions. Earnings and productivity have risen as a result of industrial peace. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) : I want at the outset to declare that I am a skilled member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. I am proud also to be a member of section 1 of the AEU and a sponsored Member of it. I am proud of that for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that it is the most democratic organisation in Great Britain. It sticks in one's gullet to be lectured on democracy by Conservative Members when the Conservative party does not have an ounce of democracy in its ranks.
Column 100The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) said that the Labour party is dependent upon finances from the trade union movement. It will be a wonderful day when the Conservative party publishes its accounts so that the world can see where its finances come from. It will also be a wonderful day when members of the Conservative party vote to elect their party chairman, who is at present elected on the block vote of the Prime Minister.
Because of the constraints on time, I, like my colleagues, will concentrate on clauses 6 and 7 which relate to unofficial action. I was a convenor and shop steward for most of my working life in the ship repair yards on Tyneside. We operated a pre-entry closed shop, but no problems arose from it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I found that most of the disputes in which I was involved were unofficial. The employers regularly sought to change the terms and conditions, wages and health and safety arrangements of employees. Our only recourse in response to the employers' action was to walk out of the yards.
Clauses 6 and 7 are based on the Green Paper entitled "Unofficial Action and The Law". The clauses are based on prejudice, anecdotal evidence and, in some cases, sheer invention. Paragraphs 1.4 to 1.9 in the Green Paper seek to paint a horrific picture of Britain in turmoil as a result of unofficial strikes. The Green Paper refers to the coal industry, the motor manufacturing industry, the docks, shipbuilding, construction, the North sea oil platforms, British Rail, London Underground and the Post Office. The suggestion is that turmoil existed in those industries.
Paragraph 1.6 states :
"A broad categorisation of the stoppages covered by the Employment Department's industrial disputes statistics shows that three-quarters of those which could be classified were official."
I tried to discover the truth and I tabled several written questions to the Department of Employment, to which I received answers in December. I asked how many unofficial strikes took place in each industry over a five year period to 1989 and how long those disputes lasted. The Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Employment replied :
"The information is not available except at disproportionate cost."--[ Official Report , 21 December 1989 ; Vol. 164, c. 449 .] I tabled another couple of questions, and asked to be told "how many unofficial strikes took place in Great Britain in 1989 the total number of days lost through unofficial strikes in Great Britain in 1989 ; and what were the comparable figures for the five previous years."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State replied :
"Separate statistics on unofficial strikes ceased to be published as a regular series in 1981."--[ Official Report , 12 January 1990 ; Vol. 164, c. 786 .]
In other words, the Department has no hard evidence about the extent of unofficial strikes in Great Britain.
If the Bill is implemented, it will be the most draconian legislation ever put on the statute book. It will simply amount to a denial of the right to strike in any circumstances.
Why is unofficial action taken in the first place? Some 95 per cent. of unofficial action is caused by employers who arbitrarily change the terms and conditions of employment, arbitrarily withdraw bonus payments, arbitrarily alter health and safety conditions or sack employees arbitrarily. The overwhelming majority of such strikes are settled within two or three working days and they are unknown to the respective union. Frequently, the first that