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Trade Union Legislation

Volume 979: debated on Tuesday 19 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further representations he has received over trade union legislation.

I have received a number of further representations about the Employment Bill since it was published on 7 December.

Is it not clear that legal battles against the trade union movement will no more succeed now than did the 1971 Tory legislation? Would it not be far more sensible for the Cabinet hawks, such as, for example, the Prime Minister, to drop policies which are now provoking strikes in industry?

An overwhelming majority of people, including trade unionists, wish to see a sensible framework of law in which trade unions, employers and workers can operate. If Labour Members continue to take the view that they have taken in the past, they are doing themselves and their country a great disservice.

Does not the union decision at Longbridge—in the case of Mr. Robinson—to call for a mass meeting rather than hold a secret ballot, with all the possibilities of intimidation that will follow, demonstrate once more the need for individual workers to have the right to call for a secret ballot? What representations has my right hon. Friend received, and is he in sympathy with them?

I am greatly in sympathy with the holding of secret ballots. A number of trade unionists, including Conservative trade unionists wish to see such ballots made compulsory. So far, I have taken the view that it is better to have voluntary acceptance of secret ballots, and that is the way in which the Bill is framed. I hope that when the Bill is enacted, and money is made available, more and more people will make use of postal ballots and workplace ballots held in employers' time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many Labour Members find it regrettable that he, whom we have all liked and understood—and who has fought a rearguard action in the Cabinet—has nevertheless succumbed to the pressures of his colleagues? If the working party document that was sent out today is included in legislation trade unionists will be worse off than they were prior to 1974, particularly on the basis of the suggestion in (a) dealing with the test. Is not that likely to lead to greater confrontation in industry?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Furthermore, there is overwhelming acceptance in the country of the need for certain immunities to be limited. At the moment they go too far, and they cannot even protect employees who wish to work but who are not able to do so.