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Sir Peter Emery : The right hon. Gentleman claimed that the opinion must be for protecting the human rights of the individuals in question. Was not an appeal made to the European Court of Human Rights ? If so, what was the outcome ?
Dr. Cunningham : The reference to the European Court of Human Rights was rejected, but not on its merits. The application to the International Labour Organisation was supported in international law--the Government are always priding themselves on taking a stance based on international law. Britain is a signatory to the convention but the Government reneged on it. I believe that the matter will, justifiably, return to the ILO later this year. I have no doubt that the case and the democratic rights of the individuals in question will be upheld once more.
Column 253The Government have no case in international law or on the basis of democratic rights. They have no evidence to support their allegations about conflict of loyalty. The Government have no supporters and no friends. If they had any sense--sadly, they do not have any of that either--they would accept new clause 1, and we could put this sad, sorry and squalid episode behind us.
Mr. Roger Evans : The right hon. Gentleman began by making the extravagant observation that everybody in a democratic society has a right to join a trade union. If he will pledge a future Labour Government--if ever such a fantastic creature came to office--to permitting trade unions in the armed services of this country, he should clearly say so. When I put it to him that that was perhaps a little embarrassing, or even a little controversial, he sidestepped the question by saying this was a case of taking away existing rights. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has some Tory respect for existing rights. That is a reactionary viewpoint but at least one that I respect.
Convention 87, to which a Labour Government signed up, specifically excludes the armed services from its ambit. In most countries, organisations engaged in highly confidential matters-- [Interruption.] I will happily give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Dr. Cunningham : I will try to shorten the hon. Gentleman's bogus argument. When people enlist in the armed forces, they do so as volunteers, and they know in advance that the right to union membership does not apply to them.
Mr. Evans : The right hon. Gentleman should try arguing that in France, which has conscription ; or in any country where there is conscription. The right hon. Gentleman makes an utterly spurious point. In most countries, an organisation of the type of GCHQ is, rightly and properly, run by the armed services. The fact that it is historically not so in this country in modern times is an accident.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : The hon. Gentleman should investigate the matter a little further. Different categories of people work for the state. Those who work for MI6, for example, are Crown servants--and as such are precluded from joining trade unions. People who join the armed forces know that they are not allowed to join trade unions. The ILO convention specifically acknowledges that provision. Other countries in Europe, such as Holland and France, may allow trade unionists in their armed forces. That is their business and has nothing to do with the argument.
intelligence-gathering by interception operation of the type of GCHQ is often run by the armed services in other countries, because such an operation is of fundamental national importance.
Another Labour Government signed up in 1978 to ILO convention 151. Perhaps realising that armed forces and police was too narrow an exemption, it added workers engaged in work of a highly confidential nature. It has always been the Government's case that they are not in breach of those two conventions taken together. At committee and conference level, the ILO has been critical, but it has not appointed a commission of inquiry or taken
Column 254the British Government to the International Court of Justice, which ultimately would be able to rule on whether there has been a breach of the convention.
Mr. Rogers : Again, the hon. Gentleman has shown appalling ignorance. The ILO did not proceed to take action against the United Kingdom because the British members gave an assurance that they would reconsider the issue. That happened last year. There will be a report again this year because of the way in which the matter was dismissed.
The campaign that has been mounted by Opposition Members is wholly without merit. It is an unconvincing argument to liken to the Tolpuddle martyrs the 14 who refused the offers made to them. It is being suggested that the 14 are victims of a democratic process going wrong. In fact, they were paid generous compensation by the Government. The background suggests that there is something extremely odd about the campaign of protest that has been mounted.
If certificates were signed by the Secretary of State under employment protection legislation--the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) did not take this point on board--that would implement the arrangements that the Government have proposed, and were that power to be removed, there would be the possibility of industrial tribunals having jurisdiction to try cases arising out of employment arrangements. That is quite apart from any question of trade union organisation leading to the unacceptable disruption that took place from 1979 to 1981. Anyone who has had any connection with the process of industrial tribunals will be well aware that large amounts of information can be requested properly--it is extremely difficult to stop it being produced by means of public interest immunity certificates--and the entire operation of an organisation can be examined in public.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Is the hon. Gentleman able to cite any industrial tribunal hearing during which the chairman and members of the tribunal rejected an argument founded on national security ?
Mr. Evans : I have no doubt that it would be argued powerfully that it was not an issue of national security. That would be the applicant's case. He would argue that he had been unfairly treated for a host of reasons, including the decisions of his superiors and the processes and procedures within the organisation. As a result, everything would be laid bare for the public to see. That would be wrong.
This is an issue of public duties, not of human rights, that bear on those who serve their country in GCHQ extremely well. They should not be allowed to behave in the way in which trade unionists in GCHQ conducted themselves from 1979 to 1981. The Government were driven to do what they did by the needs of the public and the interests of the Government and the state. The argument mounted by Opposition Members is complete nonsense.
Mr. Rogers : I wish that the hon. Gentleman would get his facts right. The industrial disruption to which he refers took place in 1981. The arbitrary reaction, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said,
Column 255took place in 1984. If the disruption was such a bad thing in 1981, why did the Government wait three years before introducing the banning of trade unions at GCHQ ?
Mr. Evans : That was the result of the squawks of protest that Opposition Members managed bogusly to produce. What happened between 1979 and 1981 was unacceptable and remains unacceptable. The clause should be resisted.
Mr. Winnick : There is a basic conflict between Labour Members and Conservative Members. It is unfortunate--I think that my assertion will be proved right--that no Conservative Member will today support the lifting of the ban on trade union organisation at GCHQ. We question the democratic credentials of Tory Members time and time again, and their reaction to this particular issue demonstrates the criticism that we make of them.
Unfortunately, there are far too many Members--certainly this is the position on the Conservative Benches--who do not understand human rights issues. They did not understand human rights issues in South Africa during the long horror of apartheid in that country. Here at home they seem not to understand the basic right of individuals to belong to a trade union at their place of employment.
Until the ban in 1984 the Government had no difficulty with the issue. I know that Conservative Members and the Minister will refer to industrial action, but one thing is certain--and I think that the records will bear this out : no Minister came to the House and complained about what was happening at GCHQ. I agree that the Government were not happy with the industrial action that took place in the early 1980s, but we were not prepared for the statement in the House on 25 January 1984 by the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Howe, announcing that there would be a ban on all trade unions at GCHQ. 4.15 pm
I said in an intervention during the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland that one pays tribute to the 14 who refused to sign. Can one imagine the amount of pressure that there must have been on all employees at GCHQ ? I do not criticise those employees--the majority--who signed. They obviously wanted to continue to work. No doubt they took the view that it would have been extremely difficult to find alternative work. Like other people throughout the country, they had commitments. No matter how much they would have liked to have stuck with their trade union membership, in the prevailing circumstances they had no alternative. They did not want a transfer. They wanted to continue the work in which they were experts, so they signed. They were given a certain amount of time to sign the document and some money. If they belonged to a trade union, they had to sign a document giving up that right. It is disgraceful that in our democracy citizens should be forced into the dilemma of whether to stick by their principles or by their jobs.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, I pay tribute to the 14 who refused to sign. They are loyal citizens, as loyal as anyone in the House or outside. They have only the interests of the country at heart. All were extremely skilled in their job. Some were experts and recognised as such. One was an expert in the Chinese language and, from 1984, played a leading role in the campaign for the lifting of the ban.
Column 256Some countries have remained under dictatorship, but others have not. In the former communist regimes, there were people like Dr. Sakharov, who reached a point where he could no longer serve the regime because he knew that it was unjust. I may be wrong--one cannot, of course, be certain about such matters--but had those 14 GCHQ workers lived in the Soviet Union, had they been Russians or Soviets, they would have stood out. The matters of principle and justice would have been similar to those they were facing, although the circumstances were very different there. They could not sign the document and allow themselves to be intimidated, even if it cost them their jobs. That is why we pay tribute to those 14.
Conservatives Members may sneer about such people, but we remember those in the last century, such us the Tolpuddle martyrs, who were persecuted and who stood by their principles. I would guess that in years to come the 14 will be seen in the same light. Certainly, I hope that they will live long enough to see their campaign succeed. Indeed, I hope that it will be only two or three years before that happens. A Labour Government will lift the ban.
My right and learned hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition reaffirmed Labour's commitment and made our position clear on the 10th anniversary of the ban when he spoke at Cheltenham. He said that one of the first actions of a Labour Government would be to lift that ban. I have not the slightest doubt that that pledge will be kept. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) wanted to intervene, but he does not wish to do so.
When the ban was announced Ministers may have felt that there would be some commotion in the House and at GCHQ--and in the trade union movement--but that it would die down within two or three years. It has not died down, however. On the 10th anniversary of the ban there was the demonstration at Cheltenham. I note that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) is either nodding or shaking his head--I am not sure which.
One thing is certain : no one can claim that the issue has gone away. It will not go away until victory has been secured. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) tried to play down the position of the International Labour Organisation. He tried to give the impression that this was not a matter of great significance. But that is not the view of the ILO, which has clearly said that the British Government seem to be in breach of convention 87.
Time and again in the past 10 years there have been attempts in the ILO to avoid coming to a conclusion on this matter, in the hope that an agreement can be reached between the British Government and the trade unions. Indeed, a meeting took place last December. The unions went to the meeting at Downing street in the hope of reaching an agreement. They were flexible ; they were willing to negotiate an agreement that would involve no striking at GCHQ. Even if Conservative Members are right to say that a ban was necessary because of the risk of industrial action--I do not accept that-- the unions were saying that they were willing to reach an agreement on union recognition with no industrial action to be taken at GCHQ. The Government seem to have said that this is not good enough. The Government, I understand, insisted that when unions sign such agreements they must also agree to ban industrial action everywhere by their members. No union could possibly agree to those terms ; they would be a denial of basic democratic and union rights.
Column 257The Government were clearly not willing to come to an agreement, therefore. The only reason why the Secretary of State for Employment--and previous Secretaries of State--has given the impression that there could ever be an agreement is to prevent the ILO reaching a conclusion on convention 87.
Mr. Winnick : It is not for me to pass judgment on whether industrial action is right or wrong. Neither I nor other hon. Members are asked for their opinions on such matters. It is not my job to pass judgment. If the hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about industrial action at GCHQ, and not just using it as an excuse for a continued ban, the remedy is clear--the unions have offered the sort of agreement that I have described.
Mr. Garnier : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can see the distinction between the principle that he supports and the question that I have asked him. Does he believe that the industrial action, taken in 1979 before there was any question of a ban, was justified or not ? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has in his time supported a number of cases of industrial action, such as the miners' strike, and has claimed that they were justified or otherwise. I am asking for a simple answer, to see how it informs the principle.
Mr. Winnick : I will not take lectures from Conservative Members who have never defended trade union rights and who, moreover, sometimes refuse to recognise trade unions in the companies that they run. A Government Whip, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), sometimes known as "the heavy", was quoted in my local newspaper--his constituency and mine are not far apart--as having said that he would rather see his factory closed down than recognise trade unions. We need no lectures about trade unions from Conservative Members.
Mr. Rogers : I know that my hon. Friend would not want to pass judgment on anyone taking industrial action. As he has said, it is not his business to do so. I am sure, however, that he would want to tell the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) that the action took place as a result of the arbitrary suspension of the pay scheme that was in operation for civil servants. The Government say that the number of man days lost was 10,000. In fact, with 7,000 people working at the establishment, it was just over one. In addition, as only 10 per cent. of GCHQ's business is data collection, there was virtually no loss of any material.
Mr. Winnick : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. People can rest assured that the industrial action was not taken in jest. Trade unions do not take such action in jest. In this case they had good reason to take the action that they took, as has been explained by my hon. Friend.
I want to talk about what happened after the industrial action.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that on 14 April 1981 the then Secretary of State for Defence asserted that the dispute had not affected operational efficiency or capability in any area ?
Mr. Winnick : The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. This remark has been quoted previously. The fact is that work at GCHQ continued despite the industrial action. The real test is what happened in 1982, the year after the action. I refer to the Falklands war. Of course, that conflict could have been avoided if the Government had not sent to the junta political signals giving the impression that the Falklands were not important to Britain. At the time of the war-- a year after the industrial action-- GCHQ fulfilled its duties. Hon. Members do not have to take just my word
Mr. Garnier rose
When the Falklands war had ended, Sir Brian Tovey, the then director of GCHQ, sent a message to every employee. This occurred a year after the industrial action which, we are told, caused such disruption that GCHQ could not carry out its duties and which, it is asserted, made necessary the ban that occurred three years after the action. Sir Brian Tovey's message said :
"High level praise. There can be no doubt that this praise has been well deserved. It has been earned by hard and dedicated work by you as individuals."
The great majority of those individuals were trade unionists. A year after the industrial action no Conservative Member--not even the Minister--would have had the effrontery to suggest that the excellent work done by GCHQ during the war was in any way undermined or hampered by trade union membership. No Minister could say anything of the kind and be telling the truth.
Mr. Garnier : The hon. Gentleman has been most courteous in giving way to me, and I shall not interrupt him again. Before leaving the Chamber to attend a meeting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs I invite him to tell us whether he interprets the intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) as amounting to justification of the strike that took place in 1979 ?
Mr. Winnick : The hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed with industrial action. I doubt whether, in his entire life, he has supported any action by trade unions in defence of their members' jobs. My hon. Friend gave the reason for the action. It is not for me, as a Labour Member of Parliament, to pass judgment, and I do not intend to do so.
If, as I hope, the International Labour Organisation comes to the conclusion that the British Government are in breach of convention 87 it should be noted that no other democracy has been so reprimanded. This would be the first time for any democratic country to be found to be in breach of convention 87. What sort of regimes have been reprimanded for breaches of convention 87 ? They include El Salvador, Brazil and other dictatorial and tyrannical countries. It will not improve Britain's reputation to be linked to such regimes if the ILO concludes that we have breached that convention.
Column 2594.30 pm
I began by saying that a fundamental right is at issue. What divides the two sides of the House is whether people have the right to belong to a trade union. I believe that, in a democracy, people at their place of employment have such a right. Ten years ago, that right was taken away without any justification. I am clear in my mind that the continuing campaign, together with what we are saying today, is fully justified. Of course, the Minister will not budge today. In Committee, there was not even the slightest sign that the Government would budge.
Following a meeting at Downing street last December, the general secretary of the TUC wrote to the ILO explaining what was happening and asking it to proceed accordingly. I hope that it will do so. Unfortunately, our new clause will be lost today, but in the end victory will be ours. No matter how many defeats we suffer now, the time will shortly come--perhaps in two or three years--when there will be another Government who will respect human rights and one of whose first actions will be to ensure that the right that was taken away 10 years ago is restored as quickly as possible.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : I had not intended to speak, but there appears to be an accusation that Conservative Members are against trade unions and I do not believe that to be true. Indeed, if trade unions did not exist, the Conservative party would have had to invent them. I hold a trade union record that no other hon. Member has ever achieved : I am the only person who, as a rank-and-file member of a trade union, defeated a member of his own executive to win a seat in this place. I achieved that by defeating Mr. Ian Mikardo in Reading in 1959--so my views about trade unions should not come under any attack.
We need to think seriously about whether it is correct to consider the employees of GCHQ in the same terms as we consider the military. That is the basis of the argument and it is the Government's view that they should be put in the same category. I understand the Opposition's argument that they should be treated separately. One of the dangers of being somewhat independent is that one can often appreciate the arguments on both sides. At this moment, however, the question is which of the arguments is more important to the security of this country.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) : The right hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members here today, did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee. I want to put to him a question that was put to the Minister in Committee. If membership of a trade union at GCHQ is a threat to our national security, how does the right hon. Gentleman view the current practice of market testing--for example, for the maintenance of RAF strike aircraft, which could mean private companies maintaining the engines ? Would the same argument--that membership of a trade union is inimical to the interests of national security--apply to the private companies ?
I spoke on Second Reading and, although I was not on the Committee, I followed its debates in Hansard . The Prime Minister's statement of 13 January is of the greatest importance in considering these questions. My right hon. Friend said :
Column 260"Against that background, however, I indicated that the Government were prepared to enable the Government Communications Staff Federation, the registered trade union for GCHQ staff, to affiliate to the Council of Civil Service Unions, subject to conditions to guarantee its continuing independence. This would have allowed the staff of GCHQ to be represented in discussions between the Government and the unions on matters affecting the civil service generally in a way in which they are not at present."--[ Official Report , 13 January 1994 ; Vol. 235, c. 255 .]
Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm whether that offer remains ?
Mr. David Davis indicated assent .
Sir Peter Emery : I see from his nod that it does, and that is important in the balance of the matter. That is a long way from emotive suggestions to the effect that the 14 people were similar to Mr. Sakharov in Russia. I have been to Gorky and seen what Mr. Sakharov had to go through, and there is no comparison. It is important that the House should not debate important matters with such a division of political views. I believe that there is not an absolute division of political views. I believe honestly that both sides want to see what is best for the defence of the country. I do not doubt that at all, and I would not suggest that those on the Opposition Front Bench wanted otherwise. It seems to me that it comes down to a difference of opinion, and how that difference is best summed up.
Mr. Winnick : Let there be no misunderstanding. I made a comparison with the case of the late Dr. Sakharov, but I accepted when I spoke--at least, I hope I did and I will check my remarks--that the circumstances were very different. I was not attempting to compare like with like. I tried to compare--I believe I was right in doing so--the case of Dr. Sakharov, who, under dictatorship conditions, stood by his principles, with that of the 14 who, in a democracy, were willing to sacrifice their jobs because they, too, believed in basic human rights and in justice. I see some likeness between the two cases.
I return to the question that I put originally : should we treat the employees at GCHQ in the same way as we treat those who are working in the defence and military forces of this country ? The Government take the view that we should. I happen to
believe--certainly at this moment--that that is the right decision. I urge those who are working at GCHQ to take up the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which is still open ; they could then make specific representations in a normal civil service fashion. I believe that, if that were to happen, the House ought to be satisfied.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones). He is not here this afternoon as he unfortunately had to attend the funeral of a friend, but he will join us later. It is right to pay tribute to his hard work--both as a councillor in Cheltenham and latterly as the Member of Parliament representing that constituency--on behalf of those at
Column 261GCHQ who lost their jobs as a result of the struggle for trade union membership, one of whom is now a Liberal Democrat councillor on the local district council.
John Cook was a communications and cipher operator at GCHQ and is, perhaps, a good talisman for what has occurred there and for what ought to occur in the future. He is one of the 14, and he could hardly be criticised for any suggestion of disloyalty to his country. John Cook was positively vetted and, despite the dispute over trade union membership, has remained loyal to his oath of secrecy, as have all the 14. His loyalty goes without question, as does that of the other 13.
John Cook was a communications and cipher operator on Ascension island during the Falklands war. He worked hard in difficult conditions and with extreme effect, so one understands, while he was there. His loyalty was judged afterwards when he was invited to Buckingham palace to be honoured for his work, yet he is one of the 14 people who lost their jobs because it was thought to be against the national interest that they should be allowed to be members of a trade union.
What Mr. Cook and his colleagues proposed was not some outrageous new theory. They were not claiming some new right. They were not relying on some newly ratified convention from which the Government might have wished to derogate when it was created. Mr. Cook was relying on an established right which he had exercised fairly throughout his period at GCHQ.
Yes, there was an industrial dispute at GCHQ, but it was a lawful one. I do not think that it has ever been suggested that there was any suspicion of illegality about the dispute or the way in which it was conducted. All lawful trade disputes militate against someone's interest. That is in the nature of trade disputes, but they remain lawful in Britain, and rightly so, within certain limits. Successive Governments had plenty of time to react to the dispute and to say that it redounded in a way which was contrary to the national interest and should be the direct cause of removing the right to trade union membership. However, that did not happen. It was about five years later that the Government decided to abolish
Mr. Carlile : I am sorry, three years later. It was about three years later that the Government decided to abolish trade union membership at GCHQ. That could hardly be described as a reaction. It seems to me that, in this instance, the Government are simply tilting at windmills--but they are invisible windmills. It is not sufficient to argue that they suddenly discovered that GCHQ should be treated in the same way as the military-- with great respect to the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). For years--indeed, throughout most of the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished and long membership of the House--the GCHQ work force were members of trade unions without ill effect.
Sir Peter Emery : I do not mean to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman's flow, but there is a difference between the time before 10,000 hours of work were lost at GCHQ and the time after it. Until that moment, trade union membership was never questioned but after that moment questions were raised. That was the watershed.
Mr. Carlile : I do not understand that point. If one analyses the time lost in the context of the whole work force of GCHQ, a very small number--a handful--of man years were lost. And it was always a lawful trade dispute.
Dr. John Cunningham : I want to help and support the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes. In the period to which the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) referred, almost 5 million working days were lost at GCHQ. Only 0.2 per cent. of them were lost during the dispute. Far more time was lost because people were absent ill and certainly because at weekends they were not there at all.
Mr. Carlile : The right hon. Gentleman makes his point well. He underlines my point that what occurred was a perfectly normal lawful trade dispute. Nor should we forget that the Intelligence Services Bill deals with the position as it is in 1994. Much has changed in the trade union world since 1978. I suspect that even the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) would admit that to be true, albeit reluctantly. I see that he shrugs his shoulders at that proposition.
Mr. Carlile : The fact is that much has changed. We are considering the position in 1994. There have been the highest level negotiations between those who wish to be trade unionists at GCHQ, the trade unions and the Government. Undertakings have been given--I have not heard the Minister suggest that they were dishonourably given--that GCHQ would be able to function securely, as it always has in the past, and that there would not be disruption at GCHQ through industrial action. I do not know what more the Government can ask. I really do not know at what windmill the Government are tilting. What are they afraid of ?
We have heard two cogent speeches from Conservative Back-Bench Members, but neither of them identified a single item that could cause the Government even so much as concern if trade union membership were permitted at GCHQ.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) may be right. There may be no technical breach of the International Labour Organisation conventions, but that has not yet been determined, nor is it the issue. The issue is the principle whether it is right that workpeople who were more loyal to this country than most workpeople are ever asked to be should have been removed from their job, their rights and their livelihood because the Government did not like the notion of having trade unions at GCHQ.
Mr. Rogers : With all due respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, the workers who participated in industrial action at GCHQ were not disloyal in any way. It is important to emphasise that national security was never put at risk and that at GCHQ--this is one of the things that are not always obvious, certainly to Conservative Members, who never even try to find out- -only 10 per cent. of the work force is involved in data collection. When the industrial action took place, none of the members involved in strategic data collection went on strike. The fundamental process of GCHQ continued right through that one-day industrial action.
Mr. Carlile : I have made the point twice that none of the workers at GCHQ was disloyal. Indeed, I think that I am right in saying that it has never been claimed that a single worker at GCHQ was disloyal. [Interruption.] The Government have never claimed with an iota of evidence to show any disloyalty or any effect of any alleged disloyalty.
I would find the arguments of the hon. Member for Monmouth more convincing if there were some evidence of a single incident of disloyalty that affected the interests of this country in any significant way. Perhaps I can best close my remarks by referring to the words of the then Secretary of State for Defence, now Sir John Nott. One notes that he has not been given the ermine shawl--perhaps because he has been a little too frank in expressing his views about the performance of the Government of which he was a member. He said that the dispute at GCHQ had not
"in any way affected operational capability in any area."--[ Official Report , 14 April 1981 ; Vol. 3, c. 136.]
If that was true
Mr. Carlile : No. I have almost finished. If Mr. Nott was stating the facts accurately to the House, why are the Government spending so much time raking over the coals of a lawful industrial dispute that took place about 15 years ago ?
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Trade union rights at GCHQ have been a major cause celebre which has rattled down the 10 years since the withdrawal of trade union recognition. The issue has dominated debates on the Bill in both Chambers of the Palace of Westminster and new clause 1 shows the Opposition's strength of feeling here as well as in another place.
I understand the grievance that informs the argument. Clearly if any one of us had joined a trade union in the knowledge that membership was acceptable, it would seem to be part of an acquired right, we would think nothing of it and would therefore feel aggrieved if the right were withdrawn. I understand and respect that feeling of grievance, but I must refer to the basic principle. The House understands that I have also run up against the Government, but they are accountable to an electorate and their perception of the defence of the nation gives them the right to make arrangements for those whom they employ. I am mindful of that right because when I read the Committee Hansard reports I could not see a distinction as regards national security. Hon. Members across the Chamber rightly accept that GCHQ is an integral part of our national defence or early warning system. It has been argued that it is crucial and that the information that it delivers is important to the nation. We say the same of our armed forces and accept that it is intolerable that they should strike, even for one day, and that it might hinder our capability--not last time, but it might next time. Governments must look forward as well as refer back.
Dr. John Cunningham : I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not understand his argument. He says that Governments are entitled to take such decisions. The same Government have a Joint Intelligence Committee, which handles the most precious secrets of the nation. Its members are members of a trade union. I guess
Column 264that they belong to the First Division Association, which is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress. Their membership conflicts with the hon. Gentleman's argument.