|Previous Section||Home Page|
"I think the straightforward answer to that is yes, we have." The Opposition clearly feel that all this was not a risk to security. I should be interested to know what degree of disruption they believe is acceptable at GCHQ. The Government's view is : none.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the Minister now answer my straight question ? Does he claim for the first time that there was any interruption to any message, or that any transmission was not recorded, as a result of this action ? The Minister has made the implication ; now that he has made it, the House is entitled to a straight answer.
Mr. Davis : I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman again : there were some reductions in cover. Some material may therefore have been missed -- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] Opposition Members seem to think that unimportant, yet we are talking about a time of state-sponsored terrorism and of the Soviet Union being on the borders of Poland. Opposition Members clearly believe that some drop in cover was all right. Now we know what price to put on the Labour party's commitment to patriotism-- [Interruption.]
The other Labour argument is that the action was not intentional. What happened at GCHQ between 1979 and 1981 was a deliberate attempt on the part of the civil service unions to disrupt the operations of a vital national defence asset. I shall tell the story not in my words but in those of the trade unions involved. A national officer of the Civil and Public Services Association was quoted as saying, under the Labour Government in February 1979 :
Column 287"The strike would completely paralyse Government communications, both internally and externally."
A local official was quoted a few days later as saying : "Our action will seriously affect operations by at least 80 per cent., as our members are specialists."--[ Official Report , 27 February 1984 ; Vol. 55, c. 27- 28.]
That point seems to have been overlooked by many Opposition Members. This is not Government propaganda ; it is what the trade unions themselves had to say.
I should like next to quote evidence given to the Select Committee on Employment :
"During the period of industrial action in 1981 there was one occasion on which an approach was made by a senior official of GCHQ . . . to . . . one of the national Civil Service trade unions . . . The reply . . . was Thank you. You are telling me where I am hurting Mrs. Thatcher the most.'"
There was no lessening of pressure as a result. The unions announced in the same month :
"There will be a range of selective and disruptive action which will affect Britain's secret communications surveillance network. There will be both national and international repercussions." And on 3 April a senior union official said :
"This is the most crucial station we have hit so far. We are going to hit this Department as hard as we can.'"--[ Official Report , 27 February 1984 ; Vol. 55, c. 27-28.]
So the areas of attack by industrial activity had clearly been carefully selected. The civil service unions' campaign report No.1 of 1981 clearly stated :
"The use of selective strike action by members in sensitive areas is a key part of our campaign. Our ultimate success depends on the extent to which . . . defence readiness is hampered."
That indeed was the intent. The unions may not have been in a position to know precisely how effective their action was, but it could hardly have been called accidental.
There is thus clear evidence of the effects of divisions of loyalty on the staff of GCHQ and of how those effects could be adverse for the operations of GCHQ. There is also clear evidence of the willingness of past union movement leaders to misuse their position to damage the country's security in pursuit of their own goals. I do not say that today's union leaders would necessarily behave in the same way, but that is really not the point. The new clause proposes a change in the law that would presumably apply for the foreseeable future. We cannot guarantee that there would not be similar industrial action at some point in that future.
The right hon. Member for Copeland made a number of points that I could not follow. He said, for instance, that there was a 1991 vote at the ILO. I can find no evidence of such a vote. The last one was in 1989, and we won that one. He also claimed that the ban was arbitrary. The decision of the European Commission on Human Rights stated, on page 31, in the second paragraph :
"The action taken was in no way arbitrary."
Several hon. Members talked about the International Labour Organisation. In his excellent contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) highlighted the complete humbug of Labour Members' speeches, as exemplified by the comments made by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert).
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) asked me to comment specifically on some matters. The Government do not accept that they are in breach of convention 87, which must be read in conjunction with convention 151, which explicitly provides separate arrangements for public servants employed on work of a highly sensitive nature. If GCHQ
Column 288public servants are not employed on work of a sensitive nature I do not know who is. The Government have noted the comments of the ILO, have engaged in substantive discussions with the unions--those were taken on in good faith by both sides--and are still willing to consider any proposals that the unions bring forward.
In a written answer of 13 January 1994 the Prime Minister said : "I met representatives of the civil service unions to discuss trade union membership at GCHQ at their request following a series of discussions they had held with officials. I explained that the Government's overriding objective remained to ensure the maintenance of continuous operations at GCHQ necessary for the protection of national security. In that context it was necessary also to ensure that the staff were not subject to potential conflicts of loyalty. 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. . . . The national trade unions have indicated that they do not regard this as acceptable. There are no plans for further meetings, but the Government remain willing to discuss any further proposals that the unions may wish to put forward."--[ Official Report , 13 January 1994 ; Vol. 235, c. 254-55 .]
In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), I say that that is still the case.
I advise the House to oppose the new clause.
Mr. Rogers : Although we agreed to share the available time, unfortunately the Minister has taken up a great deal of it. As many hon. Members want to go to the memorial service for our late colleague, Ms Jo Richardson, which is due to start very soon, I shall confine my remarks to one or two points.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) said that the question of GCHQ had dominated the Committee proceedings. As members of the Committee know, that is absolute nonsense. We dealt with other aspects. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) talked about the rights of people currently working at GCHQ. I simply reiterate a point that was made to the hon. Gentleman : if the rights of GCHQ workers are so important, why do not the Government, under their own legislation, allow them a ballot on the question of their joining a trade union of their choice ? The staff federation, regardless of what the Minister has said, is almost like a Stalinist trade union : the workers can have it so long as it is approved by the director. That is why the certification officer has not recognised the federation as a full and proper trade union. The Government's argument is absolutely spurious.
The whole debate is based on whether GCHQ is under threat if people take any action or are not there. Apart from the fact that the trade unions have given the Government a firm no-strike undertaking--a firm undertaking of exactly the same type, for example, as that which the police give--it should be remembered that data collection at GCHQ occupies less than 10 per cent. of the work force. The industrial action that took place in 1979 and between 1979 and 1981--in this connection I remind the House of remarks made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux)--arose because the management had overturned a national pay agreement without any consultation whatever.
The number of days lost, in relative terms, was about 0.2 per cent. of the total work time during a period of two years. Over that period, up-front operations were at no time affected in any way. That is something that the Minister
Column 289can check quite easily. The majority of people at GCHQ work a 9 to 5.30 shift. There are other operations. Various electronic devices are used in data collection, and the idea that someone with a pencil sits listening to what our enemies are saying on the other side of the world is absolute nonsense--as much as is the Government's argument against trade unions at GCHQ.
I reiterate a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) : one of the first acts of the Labour Government when they come to power in a couple of years' time will be to restore this basic human right to the workers at GCHQ.
Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 222, Noes 283.
Division No. 221] [6.44 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Bennett, Andrew F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela