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I find it hard to decide whether the Conservatives just pick and choose their human rights. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) appeared to compare the BNPs racist ideology with communism. There is no comparison between the threat to individuals welfare, in the workplace or outside, posed by the racist ideology of parties such as the BNP and any such threat from the ideology of communists, however much the hon. Gentleman may disagree with that. That is why although my sympathies, as a member of the British Medical Association, which is as close as I can get to being a member of a trade union in my profession, are
entirely with the trade union movement in terms of its perspective, my sympathies and support are also with the Government on the wording of their clause.
Mr. McFadden: Although I wish to concentrate on new clause 6, let me first speak briefly to new clause 4. I agree that environmental representatives are a valuable and relatively new development. Their emergence shows that unions are seeking to develop new services for their members, and trade unions have a valid and legitimate voice on this agenda. I also believe that that voice can contribute significantly to business success. My Department is producing a joint statement with the TUC and the CBI, which will focus on the benefits that lay union representatives can bring to the workplace. That statement will incorporate case study research, and we plan to publish it early next year. The issue in question is whether to place these representatives on a statutory footing. Members may not be too surprised to learn that I believe it is premature to do so, but I welcome their development, and I encourage ACAS and environmental quality representatives to work on guidance in this area.
Let me turn to new clause 6 and clause 19. Clause 19 seeks to amend section 174 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to bring UK law into line with the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the ASLEF v. UK case. That is our intention, not the introduction of wider reform of trade union law.
I would like to begin by setting out the motivations behind the clause and its intentions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and other Members have pointed out, the case that gave rise to this clause was about a trade union that desired to expel a British National party member. Abhorrence of the BNP is widely shared in this House, and many of us, myself included, have campaigned against it and will continue to do so. This clause was debated for many hours in the other place, and it was discussed for longer than any other in Committee as well; it has, in fact, been discussed more than any other clause. That is understandable because although the case that gave rise to the clause was about the BNP, as Members have pointed out the provision in question does not mention the BNP and is a more general power to expel or exclude people from trade unions on grounds of membership of a political party. There is an important point here, because Members have raised the issue of conduct, and I want to make it clear to the House that expulsion on grounds of political conduct was already legal before the ASLEF judgment. The change the ASLEF judgment made was, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has pointed out, to say that our law was incompatible with article 11 of the European convention on human rights on freedom of association, precisely because it did not have these rights of expulsion on grounds of membership of a political party.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab):
My union has the ability, on the basis of behaviour, to expel people by means of the rule book if they do not abide by the rules, but does my hon. Friend agree that, although these are
two different sets of law, it is a fair and reasonable comparison to say that we can prevent people from coming into this country and expel them from the country on the grounds of religious hatred, but we cannot expel people from a trade union on the grounds of racial hatred?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Two hon. Members have justified clause 19, as the Minister will do. The GMB, of which I am a long-standing member, has sent us a note on various items. Its general secretary, who presumably knows what he is talking about, states:
Clause 19... is totally inadequate.
more protection than any other trade unionist and unions would be financially liable for any loss of earnings a BNP member might incur.
Mr. McFadden: I cannot accept the verdict that my hon. Friend read out, which says that clause 19 is totally inadequate. The ECHR judgment centred on balancing individual freedoms with freedom of association as set out in article 11 and found that, against that backdrop, our law, as it stands, was not compatible with article 11. It did balance those things, because it said:
Article 11 cannot be interpreted as imposing an obligation on associations...to admit whosoever wishes to join. Where associations are formed by people, who, espousing particular values or ideals, intend to pursue common goals, it would run counter to the very effectiveness of the freedom at stake if they had no control over their membership.
democracy does not simply mean that the views of a majority must always prevail: a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position...Such abuse might occur, for example, where exclusion or expulsion from a trade union was not in accordance with union rules or where the rules were wholly unreasonable or arbitrary or where the consequences of exclusion or expulsion resulted in exceptional hardship.
the Court is not persuaded...that the...expulsion impinged in any significant way on Mr Lees exercise of freedom of expression or his lawful political activities...As there was no closed shop agreement...there was no apparent prejudice suffered by the applicant in terms of his livelihood or in his conditions of employment.
Rob Marris: May I caution my hon. Friend and neighbour in interpreting that judgment and backing clause 19? Clauses 1 and 2 seek to get rid of the statutory dispute resolution procedure, which was introduced by the Employment Act 2002. When that legislation was going through ParliamentI was on the Standing Committee that considered itmany of us cautioned that it was completely unworkable, as it has proved to be. I issue the same caution to my hon. Friend tonight: clause 19 is unworkable.
Mr. McFadden: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I do not believe the clause is unworkable. If he allows me to develop the point, I will talk about the safeguards that we have built in and the proposals to which we have listened in the debate on this matter.
As has been said, when we consulted on changing the law in this regard, we canvassed two options, both of which introduced changes relating to the particular part of section 174 that deals with political party membership. When we introduced the Bill, we thought that the more deregulatory option A was the better approach to follow. As has been mentioned, in subsequent debate in the other place, when strong representations were made by Lord Morris of Handsworth and others, and in the deliberations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a strong case was made for more safeguards against potential abuse.
the decision to exclude or expel was taken in accordance with the unions rules and a fair procedure
the consequences of exclusion or expulsion would not result in exceptional hardship.
may be regarded as an invitation to litigate the reasonableness of a unions rules.
Hon. Members may say that in all those representations a judgment is made about the clause as it stands. Let me lay to rest some misconceptions about the changes that we have made to the clause. It is certainly not the case that the Government are somehow refusing to legislate in line with the judgment; we believe that it is right to legislate in line with the judgment. Members can be expelled on grounds of political conduct, but we are now talking about membership of political parties. It is not the caseas has been reported, including todaythat the changes will mean automatic compensation for those expelled or excluded. If trade unions act in line with the clause, compensation will not be necessary.
Three key principles have been met: Britain will be able to comply with its statutory obligations, trade unions will have freedom and democratic rights in respect of their rule books, while the ability to discipline their members has been preserved, and members rights to natural justice will be safeguarded. On that basis...I wish the Bill well on its way.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 2008; Vol. 702, c. 21.]
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central that the question is not whether we legislate in line with the European convention on human rights, but how we do so. Clause 19 is compatible with the convention, especially given that we are not dealing specifically with the BNPlegislation must be applicable to all members of the public.
New clause 6 proposes a third wayif my hon. Friend will forgive me for putting it like thaton top of our two options. It would delete clause 19 and repeal section 174 and related sections of the 1992 Act. The Court did not examine section 174 more widely, but focused heavily on the particular facts of the case,
which concerned the expelled members political party membership and its compatibility with the unions rules and political orientation. I appreciate my hon. Friends intentions, and I agree that we have a shared objective, but the Government do not think it necessary to extrapolate the Courts reasoning in the way that new clause 6 does in order to legislate in line with the judgment.
My hon. Friend asked whether ASLEF could have expelled Mr. Lee under clause 19. I repeat that clause 19 does not mean that names of political parties have to be specified in the rule book. The important question is whether a trade union can use clause 19, and the procedures built into it, to expel or exclude members. It sets out a process whereby unions can act in line with the judgment. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would restrict the operation of the clause too much. How is a union to check exactly how many months a person has been a member of a political party?
When the Conservative party was in government, it introduced legislation on the rights of political parties, but did not produce the definition that Conservative Members are calling for tonight. How is a union supposed to police registration systems around the world? We intend to legislate in line with the judgment in a way that trade unions can use, but we do not intend to restrict that so much that the legislation is impossible to operate in practice. For that reason, if the Opposition press their amendments, I shall ask my colleagues to resist them. On clause 19, the Government have listened and responded to points that have been made. It is the best way to operate.
Tony Lloyd: The Minister has made his case. I know that the Bill will be passed unamended tonight, because there is not the strength to do otherwise. Will he give us an absolute guarantee that he will keep the legislation under review? We share the same objectives. What is important is that the Bill is effective in achieving them.
(2A) For the purposes of section 174 an individual will only be considered to be a member of a political party if for the 12 months prior to the date of an individuals application for membership of the trade union or at any point thereafter that individual is registered with the political party as a member.. [Mr. Djanogly.]
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