Skip to main content

Local Government Staffs (Trade Union Membership)

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

9.5 p.m.

I invite the House to pass to another and no less important subject which, although of a local character, has repercussions throughout the country. I refer to the action of Durham County Council at its meeting on 1st November in passing a resolution requiring every member of its staff, at all levels, to produce evidence of belonging to a trade union under pain of threat of dismissal. I ought to add, in order that the position may be perfectly clear, that the requirement is not to belong to a particular trade union, so there is no internal trade union problem involved. I should also add that in the case at least of the doctors and, I imagine, in the case of other groups, the requirement is being interpreted as one to belong to their professional association if they prefer that to belonging to a trade union.

The issue I desire to raise is the general issue of a local authority, under threat of dismissal, requiring its employees to belong to a trade union, or professional association or other such body. To complete the statement of the facts I will read from a letter of a departmental chief to the staff of his department which sums up the situation:
"At a meeting of the County Council on November 1st, 1950."—
the letter incidentally is dated 10th November—
"it was decided that all members of the staff should be members of an appropriate Trade Union. I should be obliged therefore if you will supply me with evidence of your membership (e.g., membership card, subscription receipt of card) of an appropriate Trade Union on or before November 22nd, 1950. If you are not a member of a Trade Union, will you please acknowledge receipt of this letter. If evidence of membership of a Trade Union is not produced by this date appropriate notices will be given to all those persons in the employment of the County Council who are not members of a Trade Union to terminate their employment and at the same time the persons concerned will be offered re-employment on their existing terms with an overriding condition that they become members of an appropriate Trade Union before being re-engaged."
That is the essence of the problem, and I repeat that I am raising no question of the local authority having chosen one union or one body, for I readily acknowledge that the officers in at least one profession—and I have no doubt that it applies to others—are being given the alternative of a professional association.

It seems to me this is wrong in three or four respects. Firstly, I believe it to be wrong from the angle of the trade union or the professional association. To secure members under duress—for duress it is to secure members in this way—is to damage the organisation which secures them. The body from which a member, dissatisfied with its officers, its policy or its work, cannot voluntarily resign without losing his job, is an unhealthy one and unlikely faithfully to represent the views of its members.

Secondly, I believe that the rôle of the local authority is to undertake its work with the greatest possible efficiency, to employ the best qualified persons to do its work, whether they belong to this or that organisation, or not. Thirdly, I believe it to be utterly wrong for a man's job to be at the mercy, not only of the employing authority, but also of the trade union to which he belongs. For the loss of membership for some offence within the trade union organisation or machinery to mean the loss of a man's job, is utterly wrong. Most important of all—

Before the hon. Member comes to it, would he say whether that argument applies to the British Medical Association and the doctors?

Yes, I shall be glad to make the point in relation to the British Medical Association of which until quite recently I was the secretary. To answer the question that has been put—

Do not doubt my capacity until I have had the opportunity to answer. The British Medical Association is a voluntary body. The Durham County Council orders the doctors to join a trade union or the British Medical Association, as they choose, but the attitude of the British Medical Association is that no doctor should be required to join any body, not even the B.M.A. If any local authority were to offer an advertisement for the columns of the "British Medical Journal" requiring the successful applicant to be a member of the British Medical Association, then the "British Medical Journal," the organ of that Association, would reject that advertisement.

Does the hon. Gentleman know of any doctors who have dared not to join the B.M.A., in spite of what he says?

I am glad the hon. Lady has asked that question. In my days as secretary I knew of all too many people who dared not to join. Let me assure the hon. Lady that the membership of the British Medical Association is between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the profession, that it is an entirely voluntary body, and that there is no compulsion on any man to join that body. No doubt I shall be interrupted further if the reply is regarded as inadequate.

May I come to what I believe to be the essential point of this business? It is a bad thing for any man to be required to join any organisation. In the industrial field in recent years we have seen some really shocking examples where men have lost their jobs because, for conscientious reasons, they felt themselves unable to belong or to continue to belong to an organisation. I think sometimes that we are losing our capacity for anger at such interference with the freedom of the individual.

Is the hon. Member aware that thousands of men lost their jobs because they did join a union?

I glad of that intervention for I believe that the battle for the right of association was a magnificent and a necessary one. There is a corollary to it, the right of the individual not to belong to an organisation if he so wishes. Let there be no misunderstanding. As one who spent many years in the field of collective bargaining, I want men and women to belong to their respective and appropriate trade unions and professional associations. But let me proceed—

Do not throw out too many challenges, you might hit something! If the hon. Member's belief in combination for the worker is so strong, why is he a member of the party which consistently throughout its history has tried to stop that combination?

I am not going into rhetorical questions which are calculated to confuse the central issue to which I am coming. However evil it may be in the field of in- dustry, it seems to me to be utterly wrong and intolerable that a local authority should adopt this attitude.

This is an issue of great importance. I am glad the issue has not been raised, certainly prominently, since 1946, the time of the Willesden incident. I want to acknowledge straight away that the Minister took action in that case which I hope he will take in this case. May I remind the House of the words used in a Ministry circular to all local authorities in December, 1946, following the Willesden affair? Hon. Members will remember that the members of the staff of a maternity hospital—midwives, nurses and others—were told to belong to a union or take, I think it was, a month's notice. The general opinion at the time was that the skill of the midwife at her job of midwifery was far more important than her membership of this or that organisation. The Minister said these words:
"The Minister wishes to make it clear to all local authorities that he considers that their primary duty as health authorities is to maintain the efficient and smooth-running of their health services and to ensure the welfare of the patients for whom they are responsible. All other considerations, must in his view, be regarded as secondary and he trusts that local authorities will follow this principle in their administration. While the Minister is anxious that doctors, nurses and members of similar professions should join a trade union or appropriate professional association, he considers that this matter should not he determined by the unilateral action of local authorities."

6th December, 1946, as I gave earlier. The circular is signed by the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

I think that action was entirely right, and that it should be pointed out to local authorities that this matter should not be determined by their unilateral action. My purpose in raising this tonight is to ask that the Minister should repeat that advice. I ask for this reason. Hon. Members will have noticed in the letter that I read out the date was 10th November. I have in my hand a letter to employees of the public health department and I assume that corresponding letters went out to other departments. But the letter was dated 10th November, and the subscription card or proof of membership had to be returned to the head of the department by 22nd November. They were given 12 days in which to comply.

As I understand it, many employees of that local authority are in some difficulty. Many of them are members of an appropriate trade union or professional association, but many of them resent intensely having to produce evidence of that membership as a condition of continuing to hold their job. I am glad to see that the local branch of the National Union of Teachers have advised teachers not to comply with this requirement. I hope that the Minister will find it possible to make an early intervention, because members of the staff of that county council are in obvious difficulty of one kind or another as to how to comply, even if the bulk of them are already members of the appropriate body. I hope that an early intervention can be made by the Minister in order to settle this problem.

I think I may be forgiven for saying that the vast majority of local authorities, whatever their political complexion, have far too much sense to do a thing of this sort. Proof of that is, I think, that it has not happened on any scale for some four years. But it does afford one an opportunity, and this House an opportunity, of demonstrating the right of the individual to belong, or not to belong, to an organisation as one of the elementary freedoms of the individual.

9.20 p.m.

This is a very curious argument and a very curious discussion because I have so often heard the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) in the performance of his duty, urge professional men to join a representative organisation, and the one to which he was attached. I can speak freely about this because it is not a British Medical Association matter. It is because I happen to be on the Council of the British Medical Association that I have heard the views expressed by the hon. Member so firmly at different times.

What is this local authority asking for? They are asking their employees to belong to some representative organisation with which the authority can negotiate regarding remuneration or conditions of work of their employees. They are not asking the doctors to join the British Medical Association. They can join the Medical Practitioners Union which is registered as a trade union and affiliated to the T.U.C., which the B.M.A. is not. They are asking their employees to join any association so long as it is representative, so that, instead of having to deal with single individuals, the authority can go to a representative organisation which has either some local standing or national character. Surely there is nothing wrong with that?

The hon. Member is repeating what I said; that in fact the requirement is to join an appropriate body. I do not raise the issue of which body is appropriate. All I say is that the requirement to belong to a body as a condition of employment is something which is fundamentally wrong.

I do not agree, because if all the employers have to deal on certain occasions with individuals and make separate arrangements and contracts with those individuals when those contracts deal with wider issues, it would make matters very unworkable. Surely it is proper for an organisation, when considering any vital national or regional issue, to say, "We think you should, for our convenience and for your own, join one organisation, and we demand that as a condition of employment. That would prevent us going to every employee of ours and negotiating with them separately." That is a very reasonable thing in these days when trade unionism is so widely recognised. The point is the convenience of the negotiating body which is spending public money or money granted by Parliament, and it is right that there should be these organisations for negotiation.

In general, local authorities do not make the requirements a condition of employment today. The Whitley structure for negotiation exists. How does the hon. Member reconcile his statement that it is required for negotiation, when negotiating machinery for the most part exists in the Whitley structure?

That is the poorest argument which could be put against the case I am advocating. The hon. Member says that there is government machinery available, which has been settled by legislation by which—

The hon. Gentleman should not interrupt me on a trivial point when I am trying to deal seriously with this matter.

This is not a trivial point. Is the hon. Member arguing that administrative convenience has to be put over freedom of the individual? Does he not realise the claims of conscience in these people at all?

I am not asking for individual freedom for one or two individuals; I am arguing that it should be spread over everybody. Hon. Members opposite talk about freedom of the individual as if freedom of the individual were everything. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Very well, but freedom of the individual depends on the non-violation of the freedom of others. That is a cardinal principle with us.

How does the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that one of the most powerful trade unions, the National Union of Teachers, are advising their members not to produce the evidence.

How can I argue about that? How can I be responsible for the National Union of Teachers? The point I am making is that these negotiating bodies should be representative, so that when local authorities want to negotiate on some regional or national issue, there is a representative group with whom they can settle the matter without having to deal singly and separately with each individual. The Durham County Council are perfectly wise in their requirements. They are not asking any one to belong to a particular organisation. They are not telling the doctors that they must belong to the B.M.A. or the M.P.U. They say, "We want to know that you are a member of some representative organisation which can speak jointly for you and others in the same profession who are our employees."

The freedom of the individual is now being brought into the matter, but it has nothing to do with it. I have heard the hon. Member for Luton arguing as seriously as he possibly could that every doctor should belong to the premier medical association. The Durham County Council take the view that it would be much better if their employees belonged to a stable body and did not act as individuals. If individuals need not belong to a recognised body, what are the Durham County Council to do? Are they going to negotiate with the trade unions and leave the isolated individuals outside, allowing them to get the advantages of negotiation with the trade unions? I say that that is not right, and I ask the House to reject the arguments of the hon. Member for Luton.

9.30 p.m.

I rise to express my delight that the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) has thought fit to raise this matter this evening, because I regard it as one of supreme importance. I think I should say that, in fairness to the Government, the Minister of Labour has expressed views diametrically opposed to everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan). The Government made it quite clear in 1946 where they stood in this matter. I shall refer in a moment to the precise words of the Minister in regard to the action of the Durham County Council, which he said was to be strongly deprecated.

Might I refer to the way in which the matter is dealt with by the Minister of Labour? In December, 1946, a Question was put by Mr. Byers, who asked the Minister of Labour—
"whether, in view of the injustice now being caused to individual nurses, teachers, members of certain religious bodies and others, by the enforcement of the closed shop, it is still the intention of His Majesty's Government to leave this matter to both sides of industry."
This was the answer which the Minister gave:
"In so far as the cases to which the hon. Member refers result from unilateral action by individual employers, regarding trade union membership of their employees, such action, whatever form it takes, is to be strongly deprecated, and is likely to be detrimental to harmonious industrial relations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 504.]
So far as the Durham County Council is concerned, this is a case of unilateral action by an individual employer regarding trade union membership, and I think it should be made quite clear to the Durham County Council that such action is to be strongly deprecated, if I may use the words of the Minister, and is likely to be detrimental to harmonious industrial relations.

Quite apart from harmonious industrial relations, in my submission, it runs quite contrary to our conception of the right of the individual to seek employment without a condition attached to it, which is a breach of the elementary principle of freedom. It may well be, and I certainly think it is, desirable that as many people as possible in industry should belong to their appropriate trade union, but the fact remains that, out of some 20 million workers in this country, over 13 million of them have not chosen to become members of a trade union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, so that, in fact, over half the working population of the country consists of people who are not members of trade unions affiliated to the T.U.C. That gives us some indication of the range of people who might very well be affected by the action of the Durham County Council.

It may be true that it is convenient for employers if their employees are members of trade unions, and that it is convenient for purposes of negotiation and for arranging terms between both sides of the industry. I certainly do not deny that for a moment, but this is not a question whether it is desirable that one should join a trade union, from a point of view of support of the trade union movement as a whole, nor is it a question whether this arrangement is more or less convenient to both sides of industry. The question involved here is whether it is right for an employer to make it a condition of employment for a particular person that he should belong to an appropriate trade union, and the Government, through the Minister, have made it quite clear that that is something which is to be deprecated.

The hon. Member is quite wrong. I am not asking that any county council employer should ask that a man should belong to a particular trade union or organisation, but that he should belong to any one of the recognised organisations which can act in a representative capacity.

In my view, the position is aggravated if they insist on the man being a member of a particular trade union, but it is none the less serious if they insist on him being a member of a union at all. Let us consider the complications that may arise concerning the Durham County Council. What if one is refused membership of a trade union, presumably because the union, for any reason best known to themselves, refuses members? For example, they may say, "We are not going to have Communists or Conservatives in our union." The effect of that would be that a man would have to be sacked.

He is more likely to be a Liberal than of either of the other two parties if he is taking independent action. If he was a Communist, he would certainly conceal the fact and become a member of the party opposite.

Another difficulty arises. If after becoming a member of a trade union he commits some breach of the union's regulations, some purely internal domestic arrangement, and the union decide to withdraw their ticket from him, then, again, the Durham County Council have got to sack him. I take the view that to place a man in such a position, where both the employer and the union have a hold over him in that respect, is something which hon. Members opposite certainly ought to deprecate.

I have attempted to put forward my view on the basis that there was no insistence on a particular union. The phrase used in the letter quoted by the hon. Member was "the appropriate trade union." I can well see complications arising in that respect. Who is to determine which is the appropriate union? [HON. MEMBERS: "The man himself."] Assuming there is a break way union and the man chooses to join that union, what happens? It seems to me that, ultimately, if there is any conflict as to which is the appropriate union, then the employer is going to determine the matter.

Let us take, for example, the case of teachers. We might well get the most controversial position over the determination of what should be the appropriate trade union, and we might well get members of that profession having to join a union in order to retain their job. Quite apart from that, the council or any other employer can get round the legal difficulties by giving notice to their employees and then re-engaging them on condition that they become members of a trade union.

In the case of the Durham County Council, there are people who have been employed by that council for 20 or 30 years. Are those people now to be told that a new condition of employment has been introduced, and that unless they are prepared to conform with that condition they are to be sacked? I hope that, in accordance with the clear and categorical statement made by the Minister in this House, and in accordance with what was said in a circular sent to local authorities in 1946, the Minister of Health will in this instance make it quite clear to the Durham County Council that their action is to be strongly deprecated from the point of view of co-operation between each side of industry, from the point of view of the well-being of trade unionism, and, most important of all, from the point of view of the freedom of the individual.

In the same answer to a supplementary question in relation to the Question to which I have referred, the Minister of Labour, in his personal capacity—he made it quite clear that he was speaking personally—referred to the danger of religious persecution through this medium. What is the position of those members of the Durham County Council who happen to be Plymouth Brethren and who object to joining any trade union?

Let me remind the hon. Member, as a lifelong Durhamite, that we shall be very fortunate to find anybody belonging to the Plymouth Brethren in Durham.

I do not wish to pit my knowledge of Durham against that of the hon. Member, but I should be very surprised indeed if there is not a number of members of this religious body in Durham.

Has the hon. Gentleman had any request from a member of the Plymouth Brethren or any other person employed by the Durham County Council?

It may well be that some persons on the Durham County Council will become Plymouth Brethren. I am amazed at the contempt which is being shown at this particular point of view. In case hon. Members opposite may think that I am expressing a view not in accordance with at least some members of their own party, let me read what the Minister himself said:

"But as to religious intolerance, I think myself—and I am only speaking, though a Minister, at the moment for myself—I think and I hope that trade unions will respect opinion of that sort where it is honestly and sincerely held. I know cases where such opinion has been respected, and I say further that I am, as Minister, using what little influence I have with the organisations concerned to avoid these regrettable incidents."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 505.]
I think that the Minister of Health might also use what influence he has with this county council to avoid regrettable incidents such as this.

9.41 p.m.

I am very glad that this matter has been raised tonight. I think that I can say at the beginning of a very short speech that there is a good deal of common ground between us on both sides of the House. I think that most reasonable people would regard it as a right thing and a wise thing for professional and other workers to belong to their respective trade unions, and that it is to their advantage and to the advantage of their fellows in every way that they should do so. The right to do that was bought at a very great price. Most of us know, in the course of our work as Members of Parliament, that a very large body of employers are themselves glad when their workpeople belong to unions, and encourage them to join unions.

If the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) had been objecting tonight to a suggestion from the Durham County Council that it would be a good thing for their employees to join a union, then I should have counted him entirely wrong. The question, however, is not the wisdom of belonging to a trade union but the compulsion which is being used. I should be false to the thing in which I believe if I did not say tonight that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Luton. I did not quite expect to find myself in agreement with him, and certainly not so soon in this Parliament, but upon this matter I feel that he has raised an important point to which I must give my vote.

It may be said of me by some of my hon. Friends that, of course, I am not a trade unionist, and, therefore, I can talk quite freely. I do talk freely, and I am thankful for the privilege, which I propose to continue to exercise; and all that I can do to keep other people free I shall do. I am bound to ask myself what might happen if the circumstances were slightly reversed. If it is going to become a feature of our public administrative life that a local governing body can order people to join a trade union, I can conceive of occasions when certain bodies are elected when there might be an instruction that none of their empoyees were to belong to any trade union. If that were the case, there would be a great deal said, I am sure, by my hon. Friends, and I should say the same thing then as I say now, that it is not the duty of a local body to impose its will in that way upon its employees.

I was unable to take the view, because I never felt myself big enough and of single purpose enough, of a conscientious objector, but I always objected to the fact that certain education authorities refused to reinstate or to employ conscientious objectors. I regretted their right to impose that particular view on their employees. My view was that the test of a teacher should be his loyalty to his country and his ability to teach. I supported to the utmost of my ability, I am glad to say, and in some cases financially helped, those people who were victimised in that way. The very fact that I took that stand then means that I am unable now to accept a view which is very similar. I wish that men could belong to their respective unions.

I quite agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) said about people outside a union benefiting from the work of those inside a union. We cannot avoid that. Surely it is agreed that there is a large number of people who benefit by our political activities but do not give us their support as belonging to our party? Surely we do not propose to deprive them of the benefit of our legislation because they belong to the other side?

That is an entirely different point. My hon. Friend is talking about social relationships between a political party and those who do not agree with it. We are talking about employers and employees—the arrangements of their work by negotiation—who, for convenience sake, should have proper arrangements to join an organisation.

I quite understood what my hon. Friend said, and I quite understand what I was saying. What I was trying to do was to extricate my hon. Friend from an awkward position and make him once again a true Socialist. I am sorry if I have failed. All I desire to say now it that, in one way or another, there is a steady dwindling of freedom in our land. I do not like it; I think it is wrong. We must do all we can to preserve the freedom of the individual.

In the earlier part of my hon. Friend's speech, he said that he was not a trade unionist and that because of that he was free. Does he suggest that I, being a trade unionist, am less free than he is?

I am not responsible for my hon. Friend, nor for what he says. I have quite enough to do myself. I was saying that, because I am not a trade unionist, it is easy for me to talk because I cannot be put on the mat for what I say in this Debate. If I were working in some occupation where there was a trade union, I should belong to it. But I should join it freely, and I should object to being told what I should do. I know that there are Members who disagree with me, and they will note my respect for their right to say what they think. Indeed, they can say what they like about me, providing Mr. Speaker allows it. However, I say that liberty is dwindling in this land, and I regret it. In view of what has happened in Willesden, because it seems to me common sense and reason, I hope that there will be no departure from it.

9.50 p.m.

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) for having raised this difficult and very important question. I have always taken the view, like most of my hon. Friends, that there are two sides to this matter. I belong to a profession which has one of the strongest trade unions, and I am very proud and glad of that fact. If I were in an occupation where there was a trade union, I would most certainly belong to it, and I would use every endeavour to persuade my fellow workmen also to belong to it.

I was in almost complete agreement with what the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) said. One of the great benefits of the trade union movement, and of having everyone in it, is the matter of collective bargaining. I can well understand, because I move in my constituency among trade unionists—the majority of my con- stituents are trade unionists—the annoyance of a man in a particular trade, who feels that his trade union has done a great deal for the workers in that trade, that people outside the union should benefit. But we should understand that there are some people—they are not very many—who, for one reason or another, do not desire to belong to a trade union. Some of them have conscientious scruples. I must say that they are rather odd people.

I remember hearing a long story from one of my constituents, who had certain quite sincere conscientious reasons why he should not join a union. After I had sympathised with him for a very long time, I found—I hope not to my disappointment—that his conscientious scruples also prevented him from voting. I think that the two very often go together. These people exist, and I would not withhold my comfort, such as it is, for such a person, but I would try to tell him what his duties are. That is the position which trade unions should adopt.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the type of gentleman to whom he is referring is the type who would say, "We shall have no part in the next world if we do not join this organisation"?

That may well be. I am here not to defend those odd views, but to say that people hold them, and hold them sincerely, and it is utterly wrong to condemn them for it. No one knows better than do hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are good trade unionists, what may be the effect on a man who does not join a trade union or who has his cards taken away from him. It is condemning him to economic death.

How comes it that the Tory Party is so keen on the rights of the individual in industry when it unanimously supports military conscription?

That is an entirely irrelevant interruption. That is a national matter utterly removed from what we are discussing, and the hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do.

Is the situation before us tonight any different from that of notice being given by a landlord to a tenant terminating his occupancy and saying that if he is prepared to pay an increased rent, he can continue his tenancy?

Of course, it is entirely different. That may be wrong in the circumstances of the case or it may be right. To return to the matter which we are discussing, the important thing is this. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have, quite rightly, said that there was a time when the employers denied to the workmen the right to join a trade union. Of course that was utterly wrong. But hon. Gentlemen opposite should ask themselves whether they are not doing just as wrong a thing now by insisting on a man joining a trade union when the penalty if he does not do so may well be just as severe and as bad as in the days when the employer insisted that he should not.

How can the hon. Member reconcile the two things? For almost a century the Tory Party objected to men joining trade unions. [Interruption.] I have been the organiser of a trade union for 25 years and my experience in that time was that the employers, mainly Liberals and Tories, objected to their men joining a trade union. If a man was a member of a trade union, those employers told him that he could not work for them. Now they have turned their coat and are trying to stand up for the trade unions who have been fighting for the last century for the liberty which the workman enjoys today.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that point. He must not confuse the employers with the Tory Party. I agree that there was a time, no doubt, when employers, quite wrongly—hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House will agree with him on that point—insisted on men not joining a trade union, when the penalty of joining was economic death. Is it any better to reverse the matter and to say that if a man does not join a trade union, the penalty is the same? I submit that the two matters are exactly the same. It is exactly like the wicked squire of old saying "Unless you vote Conservative I will not employ you." Nobody would stand for that now. Why should hon. Gentlemen opposite be so retrograde and reactionary as to stand for something which is just as bad?

Hon. Gentlemen know that there are cases of men who sincerely and honestly take these views. They may be wrong; but do hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are trade unionists, think they are doing the trade union movement a service by in- sisting that they join, and do they think that they are really strengthening their great movement by doing it?

We are the experts in the trade union movement, and we ought to know whether it is right or not.

The trouble is that so many hon. Gentlemen opposite, because they have been in the trade unions, think they are experts on that matter, but are they experts on the freedom of the individual, which is far more important? Is not that very much more important than the right of a person to join or not to join a trade union? I am certain—I say it in all sincerity to hon. Gentlemen opposite—that this is not a matter which can be put right by the employers, the Government, Ministers or this House. The way in which it can be put right is for the trade unions themselves to realise that the days of those restrictive practices are over and that matters have completely changed. They should realise that there are some unfortunate people whose views they should respect just as much as they do the views of their fellow trade unionists, and they should value them as people who, even in the face of economic death, assert their right to their own views.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Pearson.]

10.0 p.m.

The debate has been very interesting, but some of the speeches have got a little away from the reason for which this discussion took place. There has been on both sides some suggestion that what is being done by the Durham County Council is a threat to liberty; that indeed, trade union membership as a condition of employment is something which threatens the liberty of the subject. Everybody who knows anything at all about trade unionism knows quite well that there has been in operation for many years, trade unionism as a condition of employment. Indeed, when hon. Members opposite read their speeches in tomorrow's "Times" they will read something which has been set up by the mono-type or linotype operator who could not have got a job unless he had been a member of the London Society of Compositors. It is true of many industries that before a man can start work he must show that he is a member of his trade union.

It is ridiculous to assume that this is something new. Indeed, it was the fight of the trade unionists for years to get 100 per cent. membership in their shop or factory for the purpose of preventing the infiltration of those who, by force of economic circumstances, would have been willing to work at lower than the standard rate of wage and so weaken the trade unions.

Would the hon. Member admit that it is new in the sense that a local authority are trying to push it, as distinct from an outside employer?

I am coming to that. In one way I regret that the debate has taken place. I want, first, to remove the misconceptions from the minds of those who are not trade unionists that this is something new. In my early days in my trade union we fought as hard as we possibly could to get 100 per cent. trade unionism in the shop or factory where we might be employed, for we knew that, in those days economic circumstances were such that if non-unionists got in, it would probably mean that we would lose our job and that the standard of the worker would be reduced. I know, of course, that a change has taken place. There is now a demand for labour. I think it is true to say that the early struggles of the trade unionists have had their effect and that, indeed, there is not such need today for trade unionism as there was in those early days.

Let me come to the case in question. I am in a large measure of agreement with what has been said by the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), but I remember quite well what took place at Willesden. I was the chairman of a county council which obtained a Labour majority, a county council which covered the country district of Willesden. What did we do? We did not say to the staff, "You must be a member of an organisation or a trade union." What we did was to send a circular to every member of the staff pointing out the advantages of belonging to their respective organisations and expressing the hope that when negotiations took place with the representative organisation, we would have the assurance that those negotiations were as much on their behalf as anybody else's because they were members of it.

I regret that we are discussing this matter, because what is to happen at Durham? We have heard talk of liberty and freedom, but the Durham County Council have been democratically elected. They have not done anything which is against the law. If it is wrong to make a condition such as the one they have laid down, then we should have it on the Statute Book. We should not permit an authority to have the power to do these things if it is wrong to do them.

Would the hon. Member not agree that it was wrong to compel membership of a political party, for example, and that that is not on the Statute Book?

I think it would be distinctly wrong, but there is no relevance in that interruption because there is no comparison. It is an entirely different matter.

What I say is that if the power under which the county council are operating is wrong, that power should be changed. There are certain things that a county council cannot do. They cannot build houses, which is a pity. There are a lot of things which by law they are not permitted to do and in this instance they are exercising the power which they have.

What is the Minister of Health to do? Indeed what is the most that he can do? He can merely advise that local authority; he cannot compel them. But I must point out, because I think it is important, that it is unwise to deal with the matter in this way. A local authority is very different from an ordinary employer. An ordinary employer deals with production, with material things, but a local authority deals with services and it is the first responsibility of that authority to see that those services are of as high a standard as they can possibly make them and to give to the people they represent the value of their combined resources. If they do anything which lessens their opportunity of doing that, then they ought seriously to consider whether they are doing the right thing. Notwithstanding that, it would be a very dangerous thing if from Whitehall instructions were to come to local authorities, who believe that they, being elected by the people, have a right to speak in the name of the people and to answer to the people for the things they do.

10.6 p.m.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) opened this debate I had no intention of endeavouring to catch your eye, Sir, because my division in Cornwall is a very long way from Durham. I know nothing of Durham and I have no experience of the medical profession, but I am impelled to make a brief intervention arising from the concluding sentences of the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan).

If I understood him aright, he put forward as an argument in favour of the action of Durham County Council that the fact that certain people were not members of a union or an association was unfair, if they gained some benefit from the negotiations which had taken place between the union and the appropriate authority. I gather that a number of hon. Members around him agreed with that point of view because they said, "Hear, hear." I do not know if I am misrepresenting what he said, but I gather that is what he said.

I have heard that argument put forward before, but never for the life of me can I understand it, because it seems a complete misconception of what a trade union is trying to do. I have always understood that, in origin, trade unions were bodies of men in a weaker position than their employers who combined in order to get on an equal footing with their employers, so as to maintain their just rights. If what the unions are trying to do is to maintain rights, such rights are rights for everyone and the fact that a man is not a member of a union does not make him ineligible for such rights.

After all a union is not a band of highway robbers sharing out the loot, but an organisation to secure a measure of justice for all. I cannot understand how it is wrong that someone who is not a trade unionist should benefit from that action. It is quite a different matter from trying to get 100 per cent. membership.

Is the hon. Member aware that trade unions were established to force the employer to give the rights to the worker and no employer would give them unless the workers were organised efficiently and had industrial power to force him to do so?

I accept the first part of the hon. Member's statement, but not the second. Trade unions were certainly organised in order to obtain rights and, incidentally, their ability to be so organised was brought into law by the Tory Party—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members want an authority on that, they can go to the first Communist, Mr. Engels, and find a statement to that effect in his book "The Economic Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844" in which he specifically says that it was the old unreformed Tory Party which was responsible for giving the trade unions their first chance.

Will the hon. Member, my late fellow-worker, allow me to interrupt him? He says the Tory Party granted the privilege of trade union organisation in this country. Will he also quote Engels and say that in that particular booklet, he mentioned the fact that it was through agitation in the ranks of the working class that the Conservative Party granted that privilege?

No, I do not think this is a debate on Engels, but if the hon. Member will look at the footnote at the bottom of the page he will see that, by name, Engels exonerates the leaders of the Tory Party of that day. He mentioned Disraeli, Ashley and others.

The hon. Member did mention me by name. I think the hon. Member is misrepresenting everything I said. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my view. What I am asking for is that every member of a team should play his part, and it is false cricket if a man refuses to do his job when others are doing it.

Having given the hon. Member an opportunity of saying that I misrepresented him, it would take too much time to reply. Time is going on and I shall not continue except to say with regard to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) that I did not follow his argument either. He said that the struggles of the early trade unionists to get 100 per cent. trade unionism were analogous to the attitude taken up by Durham County Council. But there must be a difference between endeavouring to recruit 100 per cent. membership for a trade union and what the County Council are saying to people already in jobs, that they must join a trade union at short notice. I think that must be wrong.

10.13 p.m.

I wish to give my support to what is considered on these benches to be the unpopular line put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang), and to hang my remarks on an interjection made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), who said at a certain point: "We are the experts on trade union matters." Granting, as one who is not a trade unionist, that that is correct, I would say that in this House we are engaged not merely in conducting trade union matters—

—we are engaged in governing the country. I speak not as a trade unionist, but as a typical Fabian type, or a Socialist Christian, or what you will, and I say that people with vague ideas such as mine would never have seen any of their ideas translated into facts at all, if it were not for all the solid strength of the trade union movement. Nevertheless, although I acknowledge all that, I suggest that the trade union movement is not something which can govern this country without winning full co-operation of a whole lot of people who, for want of a better name, I call the bourgeoisie. These people are represented here by such people as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and myself; and although it is perfectly true that the majority, probably normally, naturally and instinctively, vote Tory, yet the Labour movement will not govern this country unless some of those types vote Labour.

But is it not a fact that it was this House that passed. And is passing, regulations governing the trade union movement? In 1800 we had the Combination Act; in 1824 we had another Bill which the Tory Party brought in, and thereby claims to have given freedom to the trade union movement.

Of course it is the fact that this House often passes legislation dealing with trade union questions I only ask my trade union colleagues to realise that our support is required in governing the country, and that there is a fear amongst the people for whom I can speak about the head offices of the big trade union hierarchies seeking and obtaining more and more power. They ought to be persuaded to pay respect to the genuine feeling of large numbers of people and to restrain their hands—and they ought not to seem to seek greater power over individuals.

10.17 p.m.

We have had a longer debate than might have been expected originally by the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) or by any other hon. Member. On the whole, it has been an interesting discussion and I do not regret that it has taken place.

The hon. Member for Luton referred to a circular issued by the Ministry of Health to local authorities on 6th December, 1946, in which we made quite clear our view of the matter. The hon. Member read out the relative part of that circular. That is still the view of the Department and, indeed, of the Government on this question.

Therefore we regret the resolution passed by the Durham County Council. At the same time we are most anxious that members of local authorities, as well as other workers in regular employment, should join their respective trade union or professional body, and we are anxious that they should be at full liberty to do so. When we hear hon. Members on the other side of the House raising this matter, as they are fully entitled to do, we hope they will also take all the action they can with such employers as still take the view that they will not provide employment for those who are members of their trade union or professional body.

Not only did we send out that circular, but I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the reply of my right hon. Friend at a later date in 1948 when, in reply to a Question put by the then Mem- ber for Harborough, my right hon. Friend replied:
"I hope that persons employed in the National Health Service will be encouraged to belong to their appropriate organizations, but it will not be a condition of employment, and there will be no pressure upon anyone to belong to any organisation, whether professional or trade union."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 29th January, 1948; Vol. 446. c. 197.]
That view has also been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in another connection. Therefore, we regret the action taken by the Durham County Council and we will certainly take the measures that are open to us. The House should remember, however, that we are concerned here merely with advising local authorities on matters of this kind. However, we will take the measures that are open to us to make sure that the attention of the Durham County Council is drawn to the circular we issued in 1946 and the reply of my right hon. Friend in 1948.

I repeat that our first anxiety must be for the proper running of the service in the country and for the proper treatment of patients. That must really remain the first responsibility of the local authority concerned. While we are no less anxious than we have ever been to encourage every member of the staff, whether it be of a hospital or any other employment, to join their trade union, and we are also anxious to secure that proper facilities should be made available, we are equally anxious that unilateral action of this kind should not be taken by a local authority.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary permit me to press him on one point? It is the time table in this matter which is important. Will he take the action which he has described with the least possible delay, because next Wednesday is the date by which a particularly difficult decision has to be taken.

The hon. Member will understand that the only attitude which we can take up is one of advice to the authority in this matter. We fully appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer) that they are the locally elected body and have full power in this matter.

10.23 p.m.

All of us will welcome the statement made by the Parliamentary Secre- tary. The only thing I wish to add is to ask that the advice his Department gives should be in the strongest possible terms; he should make it quite clear that the action taken is wholly deplored by his Minister. I would say a word to those hon. Members present who represent Durham constituencies and who could add very powerfully to the advice given by the Minister. We on this side of the House have the impression that a certain number of hon. Members, particularly those representing Durham constituencies, do not altogether agree with what has been said from their own Front Bench.

I would put forward one argument in addition to those which have been presented this evening. They have said, more in the course of interruption than in speeches, that they would be prepared to agree that it would be wrong for the Durham County Council, or indeed any employer, to compel membership of a particular union. I do not think that they would quarrel with that proposition. It may be that in some cases there is a choice of union. But it may very well be that there are cases where for all practical purposes there is no choice of union.

If they persist in the course they are now taking they must recognise that where there is only one effective union, and that union supports a particular political policy, they are in effect compelling individuals either to join a political party in which they do not believe—and I do not think they wish to do that—or alter, natively to form splinter unions. That is the only possible alternative and I would seriously commend that argument to their attention.

I do not believe that splinter unions are as a rule desirable and I say, that quite candidly. But if hon. Members opposite pursue the kind of policy they are arguing they can only produce ultimately either political compulsion or splinter unions. I beg hon. Members to see that and to use their influence in Durham to prevent any such thing occurring.

Do I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary that when he communicates with Durham it will be an expression of opinion and not an instruction to the Durham County Council?

I think I have made it abundantly clear that we cannot send an instruction on this matter. The view of the Ministry which has been expressed will be brought to the attention of the authorities concerned.

10.25 p.m.

I am disgusted at the attitude of the Ministry on this question. We talk about liberty and freedom, but we should remember that history tells us that we gain more liberty by curtailing the opportunities of minority peoples in certain conditions. We trade union men who have worked in the movement and have known something of the rotten conditions that existed in industrial circles for years, know that it has been through the trade unions that any reasonable kind of conditions have been obtained. In those circumstances is it fair that an individual minority party or a block of individuals within a big movement, should be able to prevent thousands of people enjoying the results of many years of collective bargaining?

As a result of collective bargaining there has been a gradual improvement in the working conditions and the remuneration which is paid. The whole question of justice and of liberty centres on whether small numbers within these industries, who refuse to be associated with the bodies engaged in the collective bargaining, should he allowed to enjoy the advantages which the trade unions have brought to their fellow men. We can argue about liberty in all kinds of ways, but what amazes me is that the Ministry of Labour, which has no power to enforce one thing or the other, has deliberately expressed a view to the effect that the trade unions should not use their collective bargaining powers to bring in a few men who would recognise nothing or nobody. There will always be that type of individual who believes he knows everything, and who thinks that he gets no gain or advantage from collective—

The Question having heel proposed at Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.