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Trade Union Act, 1871 (Section 12)

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 12 July 1961

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asked the Minister of Labour whether he will request the Chief Registrar to make a special report with regard to his responsibilities under Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, in so far as they relate to trades union voting papers and other documents.

The Chief Registrar is already required to report annually on his work under the Act and when appropriate his annual report refers to matters arising under Section 12.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that rank and file trade unionists are entitled as of right to have trade union business, including elections, conducted honestly and properly, and that the only external check against possible fraud by trade union officials is the right of the Chief Registrar to prosecute under Section 12? Will he bear in mind that in 1958 the Chief Registrar reported that his duties in this respect were impeded by the refusal of certain trade unions to provide him with the relevant documents and other necessary evidence? Will he bear in mind the national importance of this subject and, in view of the great public anxiety in this matter, will he take the necessary steps to ensure that the rights of the rank and file trade unionists may be better protected?

I am advised that the powers under Section 12 are designed to protect the property of the unions and would not be appropriate for the sort of situation which my hon. Friend has in mind. In answer to his general point, I am studying the recent judgment in this case, together with all other factors, and, obviously, I have no more to say about it at the moment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the ninety years which have elapsed since the 1871 Act, the clean decency of the British trade union movement has commended itself to the whole world and that now that there has been a smear inflicted on it by a totally unrepresentative clique of people—

Order. There is difficulty about this. I am not certain what the "smear" is, but this judgment is the subject matter of an appeal.

I was merely following what the Minister was saying. I was about to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that we on this side of the House are always extremely concerned at these matters; that we shall do our very best to ensure that the public responsibilities of the unions are met; and that the best way to do that is to allow the T.U.C. to go on with its work.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that we have to look at this matter calmly and in its true perspective. We do not want to take one incident as being typical. This matter has caused a great deal of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to the country, and we have to give it serious consideration.


asked the Minister of Labour, in view of the judgment given in the case of Byrne and Chapple v. Foulkes and Haxell, how many breaches of Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, insofar as they relate to trade unions voting papers, have been reported by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies in the past ten years.

The Chief Registrar has made no reports on this subject. The purpose of Section 12 of the Trade Union Act, 1871, is, of course, to protect the property of a trade union. I said this earlier in answer to a supplementary question. This was not an issue in this case.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be extremely unfortunate if this unique and isolated incident were used as a basis to mount an ill-informed attack on the trade union movement in general? Will he take steps, by a public announcement, to make clear to the country at large that this is isolated and highly unusual?

I do not think that anyone is making attacks on the trade unions. All I have said is that these are serious matters. Both sides of the House share concern about them. We have to examine the whole problem, not in the light of this one incident, but in the context of the position as a whole.