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Orders Of The Day

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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Employment Bill

As amended, (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 10

Calling Of Industrial Action With Support Of Ballot

To move the following Clause:—

'.—(1) In section 11 of the Trade Union Act 1984 (requirements for ballots on industrial action), after subsection (4) insert—
"(4A) The voting paper must specify who, in the event of a vote in favour of industrial action, is authorised for the purposes of section (Calling of industrial action with support of ballot) of the Employment Act 1990 to call upon members to take part or continue to take part in the industrial action. The person or description of persons so specified need not be authorised under the rules of the union but must be within section 15(3) of the Employment Act 1982.".
(2) Industrial action shall not be regarded for the purposes of section 10 of the Trade Union Act 1984 or section 1 of the Employment Act 1988 as having the support of a ballot unless it is called by a specified person and the following conditions are satisfied.
(3) The conditions are that—
  • (a) there must have been no call by the trade union to take part or continue to take part in industrial action to which the ballot relates, or any authorisation or endorsement by the union of any such industrial action, before the date of the ballot;
  • (b) there must be a call for industrial action by a specified person, and industrial action to which it relates must take place, before the end of the period of four weeks beginning with the date of the ballot.
  • (4) For the purposes of this section a call shall be taken to have been made by a trade union if it was authorised or endorsed by the union; and the provisions of subsections (3) to (7) of section 15 of the Employment Act 1982 apply for the purpose of determining whether a call, or industrial action, is to be taken to have been so authorised or endorsed.
    (5) In this section—
    "date of the ballot" has the same meaning as in Part II of the Trade Union Act 1984;
    "specified person" means a person specified or of a description specified in the voting paper for the ballot in accordance with section 11(4A) of the Trade Union Act 1984; and
    "trade union" has the meaning given by section 28 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974.'—[Mr. Howard.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    5.16 pm

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following: Amendment (a), subsection (2), leave out from `person' to the end of subsection (4).

    Government amendments Nos. 15 to 17.

    These amendments relate to the ballots that must take place before industrial action can attract immunity from the normal legal consequences which would follow from such action.

    One of the most important reforms of trade union law introduced by this Government has been the requirement for unions to ballot their members and obtain a majority vote for action in a secret ballot if they are to have protection against legal proceedings for organising a strike.

    It is thanks to that legislation that we have seen the end of the appalling practice of union leaders calling their members out on strike without giving them any opportunity to express their views, or after sham democratic procedures, such as a show of hands in a car park—with all the intimidation and irregularity which often accompanied such performances.

    I must remind the House that every shadow employment spokesman in the past 11 years has led his colleagues through the Lobbies to vote against each and every piece of trade union reform legislation introduced by this Government. Even the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), now the personification of Labour's new moderate media image, was no exception. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman led the bitter opposition of the Labour party to the very legal provisions concerning ballots which the Labour party is now apparently claiming to accept, and which are directly relevant to the provisions before the House.

    Our legislation has worked because it contains the necessary elements to make it work. For example, if there is no proper ballot, an affected employer or union member denied the vote can get an effective remedy from the courts. More important, it is clear that the ballot must take place before the union calls for industrial action.

    New clause 10 is at the heart of this group of amendments. Therefore, it will be helpful to the House if I describe its provisions in some detail. The amendment adds a new subsection to section 11 of the 1984 Act. Section 11 sets out requirements that must be satisfied if a ballot is to give a union protection against actions in tort by an employer or customer or supplier of an employer who may be damaged by the union's inducement of members to break or interfere with the performance of contracts, or proceedings by a member of the union under section 1 of the 1988 Act.

    New subsection (4A) requires the voting paper in a ballot to specify who is authorised to call on members to take part in or continue with the industrial action to which the ballot relates. The person or description of persons need not be authorised under the union's own rules, but must be among those whose act of calling for industrial action would be an act of the union for the purposes of section 15 of the 1982 Act. The amendments also have the effect, by virtue of subsection (2), that industrial action is not taken with
    "the support of a ballot"
    for the purposes of section 10 of the 1984 Act and section 1 of the 1988 Act unless it is called by a person specified on the voting paper. Further conditions are contained in subsection (3).

    In summary, the provisions mean that if a ballot is to give a union protection against legal proceedings for organising industrial action, the voting papers in a proper ballot must specify the person or persons authorised by the union to call the action to which the ballot relates. If there is a call to take action by any official who is not specified on the voting paper, the union will have no protection. In practice this means, for example, that if the union does not repudiate effectively what the unspecified official has done, it will be liable to legal proceedings by employers and-or members.

    Is the Secretary of State saying that specified persons must be the president, every member of the executive and every shop steward employed in the company in which there is a ballot? What does he mean by a specified person?

    It is for the trade union to decide whom it wishes to specify on the ballot paper. We do not intend to limit the power of the trade union to specify an appropriate person. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with that answer and that he will congratulate the Government on the openness of this part of the provisions.

    Why have we come forward with these provisions? First, we believe that it is right that union members voting in an industrial action ballot should know whom their union intends to have the authority to call for the action to which the ballot relates. Secondly, where a ballot produces a majority in favour of action, union members should know whether an official's call to take that action following the ballot has the backing of their union. Thirdly, it would clearly be contrary to one of the main purposes of the Bill if a union leadership were allowed simply to stand aside if there is a premature call to take action by wholly unauthorised officials following a ballot. The provisions of the amendments mean that if this happens in future—and it happened, for example, only last year when Ford shop stewards did exactly that—the union will have to repudiate the call effectively or accept liability to court action by an employer or member.

    In summary, the new clause enhances democratic practice, and is a logical extension of the law in view of the provisions of the Bill which will, very properly, make unions responsible for what their officials, including shop stewards, do.

    The Secretary of State says that it is up to the trade union to specify the appropriate people. Will he ensure that the people who are specified and whose names appear on the ballot paper are given immunity from subsequent victimisation by the employers?

    I do not see how that matter arises. Those people are likely to be officers of the trade union concerned. If the union thinks it appropriate, they can be shop stewards, but that is a matter entirely for the union, which can nominate whomever it thinks appropriate for these purposes.

    Perhaps the Minister will recall the family that used to be in a radio programme, one of the parents in which used to say, "Find out what. Johnny is doing and stop him." That is basically the way in which the Government operate in these matters. Workers have very few rights, but when industrial action occurs from time to time the Government bring in legislation to stop it. The Minister gave an example of what happened at Ford. Would he like to explain in more detail what happened and what he is trying to stop?

    I thought that I had explained that. All we are trying to do is to make sure that everybody should know in advance who is entitled to call industrial action after a ballot has taken place. At Ford, the official union leadership did not recommend that action should be taken following the ballot. Shop stewards recommended action and claimed the protection of the ballot, although it was almost certainly within everyone's contemplation that it was the union leadership that had called the ballot and that it should be responsible for calling action pursuant to that ballot. We are not suggesting that in no circumstances should shop stewards be able to call industrial action and claim the protection of the ballot. We suggest that if they are to have that protection they should be specified on the ballot paper so that everyone knows the exact position and there is no doubt or misunderstanding.

    Does not the Secretary of State see a possible difficulty? If the union puts on the ballot paper every member of its executive and every shop steward in the company, what happens if there is a division of opinion, as often occurs between the executive and the shop stewards? The shop stewards may take one view and the union may take another. How will that help industrial relations?

    No doubt the union will wish to reflect on that matter when deciding who to name on the ballot paper. As I have said, that is entirely a matter fix the union. If it wishes to confine decisions to its executive it will name on the ballot paper only members of its executive. If it wishes to extend to shop stewards the power to take this decision it will name them on the ballot paper.

    We believe that union members should have a vote in a properly conducted secret ballot, and that such a ballot must produce a majority in favour of taking action before their union calls on them to take any industrial action. The amendments will help to ensure that future union ballots about official action give voters the information to which they are entitled and that union leaders will not be able to evade their proper responsibility if industrial action is called by an unauthorised official following such a ballot.

    These are sensible measures which will be welcomed by employers, sensible union members, and the public at large. If some union leaders and the Opposition resist them, as apparently they intend to do, that can only be interpreted as further opposition to the very idea that there should be proper democratic practices in union affairs, and that unions should be properly responsible for what their officials do. I commend the amendments to the House.

    The new clause is totally unnecessary. It will land trade unions in interminable legal wrangling, and it is a recipe for chaos. It has been introduced without any consultation or discussion, it has not been the subject of any Green Paper or White Paper and it was never mentioned in Committee. It is a piece of political meddling and that is the only reason for its introduction. In its brief the British Institute of Management says:

    "We remain unconvinced of the beneficial effect of the proposal that Unions become liable for unofficial action undertaken by Union officials…Placing excessive further legislation in the area of industrial relations immediately introduces an element of confrontation between employer and union, de-stabilising the relationship by providing one side with a weapon."
    Questions have been asked about the names on the ballot paper and whether a person might be liable to victimisation. Clause 6 contains detailed provisions about union endorsement of action and repudiation, and they are far tougher than the normal rules and regulations of companies. Surely, once the ballot is held, it should be up to the union to decide who it wants to call the action.

    Let us suppose that the union wishes to change a person on the ballot paper. Does that invalidate the entire exercise? I suppose that it does under the new clause.

    5.30 pm

    Secondly, I wish to put a point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman which, if he were serious and responsible, he would wish to reflect upon. Let us suppose that a ballot is held and that there is then an unofficial strike call. Currently, because the strike is not called by the union, it is unofficial. Under the proposed new clause, an unofficial strike called by someone not specified on the ballot paper would be unlawful industrial action for which the union would be liable—except in the one set of circumstances mentioned in the Secretary of State's press release of 9 May, which is if the union repudiates the action. Let us suppose that the ballot had a majority in favour of industrial action and shop stewards who were not specified on the ballot paper called out their members, and the union then decided that it agreed with that action. Does that mean that unless the union repudiates the action it is unlawful? If the union wants to endorse the action and make it official, does it have to re-ballot? We need answers to those practical questions

    I am astonished that nothing was mentioned in Committee about the new clause. The only example that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave was of an industrial dispute last year, not one during or subsequent to the Committee proceedings. The only reason for the new clause is to place a further disproportionate and unfair burden on trade unions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman already has adequate provisions in the Bill and he should not put on unions further burdens that could land them in legal action for no good reason.

    The new clause is trivial and can lead only to further confusion. It is objectionable. It might, perhaps, add some knowledge to mankind if those who can call industrial action are specified on the ballot paper. However, that can lead only to further opportunities for lawyers to have some fun. The courts have already said that they find this area of industrial relations law complicated enough, without the Secretary of State making it even more complicated.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not answer the legitimate question asked by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). The new clause provides for the specifying of not only a single person, but several persons. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said that a number of people might be specified, but that after the ballot had been held and there was a majority in favour of industrial action—the very circumstances to which the new clause is directed—there might be a split among those specified persons. After all, it is not at that stage that a union decides whom to specify—they have already been specified. How does that improve the present practice? As the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, nothing has happened since the end of the Committee stage to prompt the new clause. It indulges in a degree of detail that can only benefit lawyers and does little to enhance industrial relations.

    Our amendment (a) seeks to tackle the conditions set out in subsections (3)(a) and (4). When read in conjuction with clause 6, it appears that if an official, whether or not specified by the union, called action on a particular issue, and if the union failed to repudiate that action, there could never be a valid strike ballot on that issue. That could lead to the anomaly of union members declaring in favour of action, but, under the new clause, the will of that majority being defeated and a valid strike ballot not taking place. I am sure that that is not what is intended—or perhaps it is. That is why we tabled our amendment.

    If the Government are trying to achieve the aims set out by the Secretary of State, that can be done by subsections (1) and (2), and further conditions are not necessary. The new clause is trivial. On a day when unemployment seems to be rising again, the Secretary of State surely has better matters on which to concentrate his mind.

    I am astonished by the reaction to these modest provisions which, far from complicating matters, clarify them. They enable trade unions to make it clear, with considerable precision—as much as they think appropriate, having regard to the conditions—who should be allowed to call industrial action. It is a simple clarifying measure and the Opposition's reaction astonishes me.

    Something has just crossed my mind. What would happen if the person nominated on the ballot form passed away? Would there need to be a fresh ballot?

    Not at all—the other people specified can call the industrial action——

    That might be a good reason for a trade union not doing anything so foolish as to name only one person. It is entirely a matter for the union. If it were foolish enough to specify only one person who then, unfortunately, suffered the fate predicated by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), it would have to hold another ballot. That is why it would be so silly for a trade union to specify only one person.

    I wish to answer the questions posed by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). These provisions follow so directly and consistently the general structure of the remainder of the Bill that there is hardly any need to consult on them. Anyone with strong views has had the opportunity to express them. They fit within the framework and the structure of the Bill.

    If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he requested that a union should be allowed to choose those authorised to take action. It is. That is the purpose of the provisions. As I said, the union would make that decision.

    Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the point that concerns us most? If a shop steward who is not specified on the ballot paper decides to call out his members—let us suppose that he calls them out at 2.45 pm—and the union is also minded to call out the members—let us say that it intends to do so at 3pm—do the provisions of the new clause mean that the union could not endorse the action of the shop steward at 2.45 pm and that a fresh ballot would have to be held?

    If those who are specified on the ballot wish to exercise their right to call for industrial action, they can do so. Their right to do so is not affected by the fact that someone who was not authorised to do so had already done so.

    Let us get this point perfectly clear. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that if there is an official strike call, the union can repudiate that but then endorse it?

    The hon. Gentleman is predicating a sequence of actions on the part of a trade union which is difficult to follow. A few moments ago, he described a situation in which, within minutes of someone who was not on the ballot paper calling industrial action, the union and those who were authorised to take industrial action by being named on the ballot paper chose so to do. Their ability so to do would in no way be affected by the fact that someone else who was not authorised had done so. Therefore, that cannot conceivably be a serious problem.

    Some of us are a bit perplexed about why the Minister has introduced the new clause at this late stage and why he is getting involved in such pernickety detail. Who has asked for this? Was it the trade unions or employers? Did he consult anybody? There was nothing in his Green Paper about it. Has any reputable body asked for this? Why has he become involved in this a year after the event, when it was not considered in Committee?

    The hon. Gentleman will not be entirely astonished to hear that we can look at such matters, decide whether there is a mischief which needs to be remedied and take the appropriate action if we think that it is necessary. It is not necessary in every case to wait for someone to suggest that action should be taken. In the light of the circumstances which arose in the Ford dispute last year, it seemed sensible to clarify the matter, to remove the confusion and to make it entirely clear that a trade union should be in a position to specify in advance just who should he authorised to take the appropriate action following a ballot.

    Amendment (a) would remove certain requirements which are part of the present law on balloting for industrial action. Perhaps the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will tell us whether that is his intention. For example, the amendment appears designed to allow trade unions to call for industrial action before holding a proper secret ballot if the official who calls the action is specified on the voting paper.

    I said that the mischief that the amendment was designed to tackle was that subsection (3)(a), read with subsection (4) and clause 6(3), could mean that, if any union official not mentioned on the ballot paper, whether employed by the union or not, called on the members to strike on a particular issue, there could be no subsequent strike ballot on that issue. That may be a wrong interpretation, but that was the mischief which we were trying to attack. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that such a situation could not arise? If so, there would be no need for the amendment. But if it could arise, is that something which he would countenance? If not, can he suggest a form of words which would tackle that without giving rise to the consequential effects of my amendment which he has described?

    In answer to my challenge, the hon. Gentleman has raised an entirely different point which I have already answered because it was put to me by the hon. Member for Sedgefield. The fact remains that amendment (a) would allow trade unions to call for industrial action before holding a proper secret ballot. The question I posed, which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has conspicuously failed to answer, is whether that was his intention.

    That was not my intention. The Minister knows my intention and he is being oleaginous in the extreme in not answering directly.

    I am delighted to hear that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention. Perhaps in those circumstances he will accept that his amendment is misconceived.

    The amendment would also remove the requirement that the call for action by a person specified on the ballot voting paper should be within four weeks of the ballot—another provision of the existing law which is an entirely necessary and reasonable requirement, which the hon. Gentleman appears to acknowledge.

    The hon. Gentleman's amendment would also strike out provisions that are necessary to determine what is to be taken for relevant purposes as a call by a trade union. If those provisions were deleted in accordance with the amendment, that would simply produce confusion and doubt. In addition, as if that were not enough, it would leave it unclear whether a union could ever escape liability for a premature call by an unauthorised official, which the present provisions allow through the process of effective repudiation.

    The fears, such as they are, that have been expressed by Opposition Members are entirely misplaced. This is a sensible and modest provision which introduces clarity and greater certainty into the law, and I commend it to the House.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 201, Noes 149.

    Division No. 213]

    [5.45 pm


    Adley, RobertClark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
    Aitken, JonathanClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
    Alexander, RichardClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelConway, Derek
    Amess, DavidCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
    Amos, AlanCurry, David
    Arbuthnot, JamesDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Davis, David (Boothferry)
    Atkins, RobertDay, Stephen
    Atkinson, DavidDickens, Geoffrey
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Benyon, W.Dover, Den
    Bevan, David GilroyDunn, Bob
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterDurant, Tony
    Body, Sir RichardDykes, Hugh
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasEggar, Tim
    Boscawen, Hon RobertEvennett, David
    Boswell, TimFallon, Michael
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Farr, Sir John
    Bowis, JohnFavell, Tony
    Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardFishburn, John Dudley
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinForman, Nigel
    Bright, GrahamFox, Sir Marcus
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Franks, Cecil
    Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Freeman, Roger
    Buck, Sir AntonyGardiner, George
    Budgen, NicholasGarel-Jones, Tristan
    Burns, SimonGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
    Butcher, JohnGoodhart, Sir Philip
    Butler, ChrisGoodlad, Alastair
    Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
    Carrington, MatthewGorst, John
    Chapman, SydneyGow, Ian
    Chope, ChristopherGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)

    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Gregory, ConalMoate, Roger
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Monro, Sir Hector
    Ground, PatrickMorris, M (N'hampton S)
    Hague, WilliamMorrison, Sir Charles
    Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Moss, Malcolm
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Neubert, Michael
    Hanley, JeremyNewton, Rt Hon Tony
    Hannam, JohnNicholls, Patrick
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Harris, DavidNorris, Steve
    Haselhurst, AlanOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Hawkins, ChristopherOppenheim, Phillip
    Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyPage, Richard
    Hayward, RobertPatnick, Irvine
    Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Pawsey, James
    Hill, JamesPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Porter, David (Waveney)
    Howard, Rt Hon MichaelPortillo, Michael
    Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Powell, William (Corby)
    Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Raff an, Keith
    Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
    Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Renton, Rt Hon Tim
    Hunter, AndrewRhodes James, Robert
    Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRiddick, Graham
    Irvine, MichaelRidsdale, Sir Julian
    Irving, Sir CharlesRost, Peter
    Jack, MichaelRowe, Andrew
    Jackson, RobertRyder, Richard
    Janman, TimSackville, Hon Tom
    Jessel, TobySainsbury, Hon Tim
    Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShaw, David (Dover)
    Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Key, RobertShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Kilfedder, JamesShelton, Sir William
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
    Kirkhope, TimothyShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
    Knapman, RogerSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
    Knight, Greg (Derby North)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Soames, Hon Nicholas
    Knowles, MichaelSpeed, Keith
    Knox, DavidSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
    Lang, IanStanbrook, Ivor
    Latham, MichaelSteen, Anthony
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkStevens, Lewis
    Lightbown, DavidStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
    Lilley, PeterStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Stokes, Sir John
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Sumberg, David
    Lord, MichaelTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    McCrindle, RobertTemple-Morris, Peter
    Macfarlane, Sir NeilThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Maclean, DavidThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Madel, DavidThorne, Neil
    Malins, HumfreyThurnham, Peter
    Mans, KeithTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
    Maples, JohnTracey, Richard
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
    Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
    Mates, MichaelWatts, John
    Maude, Hon FrancisWiddecombe, Ann
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
    Mellor, David

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Meyer, Sir Anthony

    Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Nicholas Baker

    Miller, Sir Hal
    Mills, Iain


    Abbott, Ms DianeBenn, Rt Hon Tony
    Allen, GrahamBermingham, Gerald
    Alton, DavidBidwell, Sydney
    Anderson, DonaldBlair, Tony
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterBoateng, Paul
    Armstrong, HilaryBrown, Gordon (D'mline E)
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
    Battle, JohnBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
    Beckett, MargaretBuchan, Norman
    Beith, A. J.Buckley, George J.

    Caborn, RichardMcKelvey, William
    Callaghan, JimMcLeish, Henry
    Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Maclennan, Robert
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.McWilliam, John
    Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Madden, Max
    Cartwright, JohnMahon, Mrs Alice
    Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Marek, Dr John
    Clay, BobMarshall, David (Shettleston)
    Cohen, HarryMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Coleman, DonaldMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
    Cook, Robin (Livingston)Martlew, Eric
    Corbett, RobinMaxton, John
    Corbyn, JeremyMeale, Alan
    Cryer, BobMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Cummings, JohnMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMoonie, Dr Lewis
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Dixon, DonMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Doran, FrankMowlam, Marjorie
    Dunnachie, JimmyMurphy, Paul
    Eastham, KenNellist, Dave
    Evans, John (St Helens N)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)O'Brien, William
    Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Parry, Robert
    Flannery, MartinPatchett, Terry
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelPike, Peter L.
    Foster, DerekPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Foulkes, GeorgePrescott, John
    Fraser, JohnPrimarolo, Dawn
    Fyfe, MariaQuin, Ms Joyce
    Galloway, GeorgeRedmond, Martin
    Garrett, John (Norwich South)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Reid, Dr John
    Gould, BryanRichardson, Jo
    Graham, ThomasRobertson, George
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Robinson, Geoffrey
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Ruddock, Joan
    Grocott, BruceSalmond, Alex
    Haynes, FrankSedgemore, Brian
    Henderson, DougSheerman, Barry
    Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Short, Clare
    Home Robertson, JohnSkinner, Dennis
    Hood, JimmySmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Howells, GeraintSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
    Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Snape, Peter
    Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Soley, Clive
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Turner, Dennis
    Illsley, EricWallace, James
    Ingram, AdamWalley, Joan
    Janner, GrevilleWardell, Gareth (Gower)
    Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
    Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldWigley, Dafydd
    Leadbitter, TedWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    Leighton, RonWinnick, David
    Lewis, TerryWorthington, Tony
    Litherland, RobertWray, Jimmy
    Livingstone, KenYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
    Loyden, Eddie

    Tellers for the Noes:

    McAllion, John

    Mr. Frank Cook and Mrs. Llin Golding.

    McAvoy, Thomas
    McCrea, Rev William

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 1

    Employer's Breach Of Statutory Duty

    'An industrial tribunal shall have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for unfair dismissal by an employee dismissed for taking part in unofficial industrial action where it finds that the reason for the action was a genuine and reasonable belief by the employee that the employer was acting in breach of

    statutory duty whether in respect of health and safety matters or other matters connected with the terms and conditions of the employees of the employer.'.— [Mr. Tony Lloyd.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this, it will be convenient to take the following: amenclment (a) to the new clause, at end insert

    `or because the employee or employees were genuinely unaware of action being taken by their union to try and resolve the dispute.'.
    New clause 4—Health and Safety
    'An employer has no right to dismiss selectively any employee who refuses to work on any site, location, or job which the said employee considers to be dangerous to his health, or involves contact with any substance he has grounds to believe is hazardous to health.'.
    Amendment (a) to new clause 4, after 'right' insert
    'without seeking the advice of the Health and Safety Executive'.
    New clause 7—Involvement of Health and Safety Inspectorate
    'In circumstances where an employee refuses to work on any site or job in which he believes there is a danger to his health, a Health and Safety Inspector must be called under such circumstances to inspect the site or job, from whom a formal safety declaration will be required before any work resumes.'.
    New clause 8—Safety Committees
    '(1) Every employer shall be required to establish a safety committee at his place of work to which his employees shall elect representatives.
    (2) The safety committee, which shall comprise equal numbers of employer and employee representatives, shall, by majority vote, have the authority to suspend work where it believes there is a risk of harm or serious injury to employees or to ancillary workers.
    (3) The suspension of work shall remain in force until the alleged hazard has been inspected by a Health and Safety Inspector and a formal declaration by the Health and Safety Inspector that the hazard has been removed.'.
    Amendment No. 19, in clause 7, page 7, line 26, after `(1)', insert
    'save where matters of health and safety are concerned.'.
    Amendment No. 24, in page 7, line 37, at end add—
    '(c)) The action is being taken by employees who genuinely believe that their employer is in breach of statutory duty in respect of health and safety matters.'.

    As the Minister of State knows, because the pattern is familiar to us—and I believe it would be fair to say that he has no reputation to lose—the clauses in the Bill to which we took the strongest exception are those dealing with unofficial action. We particularly object to the concept of selective dismissal for the crime, in the Government's eyes, of taking unofficial industrial action. The Government also seek to take away any protection whatsoever from a person sacked for that reason in respect of recourse to an industrial tribunal. That represents a further significant move away from any semblance of fairness.

    We have raised that issue on a number of occasions but received no satisfactory answer. Employees who felt compelled, in order to maintain a health and safety regime at their place of work, to take a form of industrial action might find themselves threatened with the loss of their jobs, and would have no protection under present law.

    We have already established in general terms that the very interests that the Government prayed in aid as in need of protection against such action have said that they do not want it. I refer in particular to the reaction of London Regional Transport. The strikes on the underground were one motive for the Government's rush into this legislation. LRT made it clear that it felt that this part of the Employment Bill was useless and would be counterproductive to good industrial relations.

    6 pm

    On numerous occasions we told the Government that people had been forced to take industrial action in defence of health and safety. One illustration that I gave to the Minister was the strike on the Isle of Grain site in the Thames estuary, when people producing concrete linings for the channel tunnel project took industrial action because the company refused the request for a permanent staff nurse on site. Although there was industrial action, there was no interruption of the contract of employment by management and nothing that the Minister could use in his defence to say that management were outside the scope of the legislation. The workers who took strike action in February 1989 would have been liable to selective dismissal had the rules in the Bill been in force. The Bill would have allowed management to pick off the ring leaders of the strike.

    In Committee, the Minister's defence was that people wishing to take unofficial industrial action already had legal rights if management operated an unsafe health and safety regime, as it had therefore abrogated its contract of employment with the work force; therefore, the clauses Nos. 1 and 4 would not have any impact.

    The Opposition has taken a considerable amount of advice on the issue, and the Minister has already seen some of it. He knows that there is no reputable legal argument to sustain the view put forward by the Government in Committee. The Minister may want to pray in aid other sources of information, but I think that legal opinion is unanimous in the view that the law is clear about what constitutes unofficial industrial action.

    In Committee, the case of Power Casemakers Limited v. Faust established that when judging unofficial industrial action as defined in the two new clauses, the employers' or employees' motivation does not need to be taken into consideration. What is relevant is whether the employer was in breach of his contract with his employees when unofficial action was taken. The Minister looks puzzled, but we have pointed this out on a number of occasions, and I am surprised that the arguments still puzzle him. This issue is central to the Minister's case and it is central to our case, because he is wrong, and that exposes people in their workplace to injury and to losing their jobs if they seek recourse to industrial action to protect themselves.

    At the moment, much attention is focused on the channel tunnel. It is a pity that the Secretary of State has chosen to absent himself from the debate. I was pleased to see him driven from his inertia on health and safety last week. He did something positive about the disgraceful accident rate in the tunnel. If Conservative Members feel that that is not the case, perhaps they would like to say what the Minister has done in the past when people have been dying. I do not think that Conservative Members are in any position to argue that case, because the Minister did nothing until he was driven to it by the considerable criticism of the tunnel company in the press.

    I have been asking about this issue for some time. I wish to draw the House's attention to a log book for locomotive drivers working in the tunnel. One driver's comment was:
    "The warning beacon obstructs the view to the rear. If somebody is killed as a result of poor visibility to the rear it will be blamed on the driver. These beacons are put in a ludicrous position right in the driver's field of vision…Move them before somebody is hurt or killed".
    The same point is made time and again in the log books. They are available to the company; they are the company's log books. However, nothing is done.

    Ironically, one of the locomotive drivers was sacked yesterday by Transmanche Link. He drove one of the vehicles which are considered to be unsafe. The company claims that he had refused to take instructions about where he was to work and it suspended him. He went through a four-stage disciplinary hearing, which found him guilty of indiscipline. That may be the case, but he claims that he was dismissed because he was a safety representative and because he had refused to work in conditions which he thought to be unsafe.

    The point at issue is that, as the law stands, that man has the opportunity to claim that he was unfairly dismissed, but once the Bill comes into force, if the company can argue that he was taking industrial action or refusing to work, because it would be classed as unofficial action, he could be dismissed without recourse to a tribunal. There would have been no examination of the rights or wrongs of the case.

    We know that work in the channel tunnel is unsafe. Even the Secretary of State is concerned about that now. One reason is there is considerable pressure on workers to put progress before safety, with the result that there has been a high accident and death rate.

    If we take away workers' rights to defend themselves by having recourse to some form of industrial action, the Minister will once again put lives at risk in the tunnel. I insist that the Minister deals with that issue when he responds to the debate.

    Legal opinion is firmly on our side in this matter. In Committee and on Second Reading the Minister said that it was not his intention to make life more difficult for people in the workplace as regards health and safe working conditions. If that is the case, the modest amendments that we have tabled would not undermine the two clauses dealing with unofficial industrial action but would give recourse to an industrial tribunal—in new clause 1—so that it could decide whether health and safety issues had been a factor in dismissals. We are not asking the Minister to rip up the Bill or that part of it which deals with unofficial action. We are building into the Bill a simple defence so that workers will not feel that the only way that they can protect themselves is by using industrial action to guarantee that they and their workmates are not put at unnecessary risk.

    It would be simple for the Minister to accept the new clauses as a minimum form of safety standard. If he does that he will have the support of the whole House, but if he does not, he must examine the consequences for people at work. He will be jeopardising their position and putting them at risk of injury or ultimately, as we have seen in the channel tunnel, of death.

    I agree implicitly with my hon. Friend's argument about people at work. This issue could also affect the public in some circumstances. Earlier he referred to London Regional Transport and British Rail. The increase in the number of near misses and cases of overshooting red lights reported by British Rail is worrying. Train drivers involved could take action to improve the situation. I am not saying that they will have to do that, but I can see that sometimes there is a need for them to do so, and that would benefit the public. By introducing a restriction on such workers, we put the public at risk.

    My hon. Friend makes a fair point. It is not only workers who can be involved in accidents. Last weekend, two young children in my constituency got on to British Rail property and were electrocuted by touching the overhead line. The question now is whether British Rail was negligent, but that has to be established. However, my hon. Friend is right: had an employee taken action to protect those young children, he would have acted in a socially responsible way but, without the addition of the new clauses, it would have put him outside the provisions of the Bill.

    Amendment (a), tabled by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel), to new clause 1 seeks to extend the scope of the new clause. It provides for recourse to an industrial tribunal if
    "the employee or employees were genuinely unaware of action being taken by their trade union to try and resolve the dispute."
    There is merit in the amendment. It is a reasonable defence. If the Minister were to say that he is prepared to accept the new clause but not the amendment, we should have to reconsider our position. However, I hope that the Minister will recognise the logic of accepting both new clause 1 and amendment (a).

    On Second Reading and in Committee we made it clear that we accept some of the concerns that have led to the tabling of the new clauses and their related amendments, since they are inspired by a genuine desire to ensure that health and safety standards at workplaces are maintained or improved. The Government fully share that aim. We would not propose legislation that we believed would in any way undermine those standards. We are totally committed to the health and safety arrangements that have been established by law. It is a non-partisan matter. We agree entirely that nothing should put those arrangements at risk.

    A degree of common ground should exist and, I believe, does exist over health and safety matters. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, governing health and safety matters, was drawn up by a former Conservative Government and enacted by a subsequent Labour Government. The Act placed the prime responsibility for health and safety fairly and squarely on the shoulders of employers, with the co-operation of their employees. That legislation was rightly recognised to be a milestone in helping to secure and improve health and safety standards in this country, and it is generally well regarded internationally.

    The Act is kept under review by the tripartite Health and Safety Commission, which can propose improvements if it decides that they are needed. It is, and will continue to be, unlawful to work or to be asked to work in unsafe conditions. No employee, by definition, can be required by his employer to do something unlawful. The Bill does absolutely nothing to change that. At times in Committee, and during the hon. Gentleman's speech, it was implied that the effect and purpose of the Bill was to undermine the high standards for health and safety standards at work. That is not the case.

    The Minister has uttered fine words about the 1974 Act. He says that he appreciates the concern expressed by the Opposition, particularly in Committee. Will he accept the intention behind one of the amendments and incorporate it in clause 7? If he does not accept the intention which underlines one of the amendments—the Minister can choose which one to accept—his fine words will be meaningless, and events in the next two years, as cases come to light, will show that his words were meaningless.

    6.15 pm

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me as I hope to deal with the effect of the new clauses. These are serious and difficult matters. I hope that, by the time I sit down, I shall have explained to the hon. Gentleman why the Government have difficulty with the proposals.

    The issue debated in Committee was technical—whether simple refusal to do unsafe work could be regarded as taking industrial action. We have considered that question carefully, and our conclusion is clear and unequivocal. The Government are absolutely confident that no court or tribunal has found, or would find, that simple refusal to do unsafe work amounts to taking industrial action. It follows that, if an employee simply refuses to do work that he believes to be unsafe and is dismissed, an industrial tribunal has, and will continue to have, jurisdiction to determine whether that dismissal was fair or unfair.

    The legislation on unfair dismissal was enacted by the last Labour Government. That legislation, which made the dismissal of strikers fair in certain circumstances, made no special provision for refusal to work on grounds of health and safety. If there was no need for such a provision then, there is no need now.

    Leaving aside the last Employment Bill, now an Act, that made provision for deposits to get into the industrial tribunal system, industrial tribunals cannot order a company to take a worker back into employment. If a worker knows that, although he can find his way through the maze of industrial tribunal legislation he will not get his job back, he will still knuckle under, believing that he must do as he is told if he is to keep his job. That is happening now on the Channel tunnel project.

    The hon. Gentleman is not dealing with the point at issue, which has been discussed at some length—whether simple refusal to do work in unsafe conditions amounts to industrial action. That is a critical question. If it is held to be industrial action, the Bill will affect the right of referral to industrial tribunals. If—as is our position—a simple refusal to do work is not industrial action, the position will be as it has always been and it will be totally unaffected by the Bill.

    The Minister has chosen his words carefully. He says that he is sure that a simple refusal to do work would not constitute industrial action. That, as he knows, is a contentious statement. There are those who disagree with his view. As there is doubt, it is incumbent on the Minister to ensure that the law says precisely what he claims that it says. He ought not to allow the matter ultimately to be tested in the courts.

    The Minister must also define what he means by simple refusal. For example, would an overtime ban in support of a health and safety measure constitute simple refusal to do work, or would it constitute industrial action? The overwhelming legal opinion is that it would constitute industrial action. If the Minister is saying that in those circumstances he believes that people should lose their jobs, he should make it clear at the Dispatch Box.

    The case that the hon. Gentleman has postulated would have to be decided on the facts. He quoted the Faust case, but the Faust judgment made it clear that people would know industrial action when they saw it—in other words, it would have to be decided on the facts.

    My point follows the question raised by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). Is not the effect of not accepting the amendments and not clarifying the position to put another barrier in the way of an employee who is dismissed and who then has to take the case to a tribunal to determine, first, whether the tribunal has jurisdiction before it can decide the fairness or unfairness of the dismissal? The fact that the law as it stands gives the tribunal no automatic jurisdiction must be a disincentive to test the system. I know that the Minister's concern about health and safety at work is genuine, but the Government would lose nothing by accepting the new clause, at least in principle, and getting rid of the doubt.

    I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not give way again. That is not meant in any way as a discourtesy, but I am aware of the time. I hope that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will bear with me as I develop the argument.

    In practice, the difficulty revolves around the problem of how one defines industrial action. It has been the view of successive Governments—the last Labour Government and the present Government—that it is extremely difficult to define industrial action and that the best solution is to leave it to industrial tribunals, and if necessary the Court of Appeal, to decide in the light of the facts of any particular case. I understand the appeal of seeking to define industrial action and we have considered the matter in considerable detail, but we do not believe that it is necessarily the right course.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I said that I would not give way again. I hope that he will have a chance to make his point, and I shall be happy to answer it.

    It is far from obvious that simply stopping work is always the right course for an employee who genuinely believes that working conditions are unsafe. Except in a minority of cases in which there is or is believed to be some real, immediate and serious risk of personal injury, there are other options—for example, employees can take matters up with their local health and safety inspector.

    The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred to a conflict of legal views. Earlier this afternoon, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was kind enough to let me have a legal opinion. I do not consider that that strengthens his case. If he looks at the questions that were asked of learned counsel in that opinion, he will realise that he asked the wrong questions. Question 3 relates to industrial action, but the issue is whether a simple refusal to carry out unsafe work constitutes industrial action. I can only recommend that Opposition Members read the first page of that opinion and the third question that was asked. They will find that they asked the wrong question. It is not surprising that, the wrong question having been asked, the answer does not address the issue before the House—that is, whether a simple refusal to work on health and safety grounds constitutes industrial action. Our view is that it does not.

    We have to clarify that. After all, most hon. Members consider that if there is a serious difference, the sensible course would be to remove any area of doubt instead of leaving it to someone to go to a tribunal some time later. Our adviser was asked whether a stoppage of work for health and safety reasons would constitute unofficial industrial action, and the answer was that it would be unofficial industrial action irrespective of the reasons or motivation behind the stoppage.

    That exactly proves my point. That is not the question at issue between us. I am perplexed that the hon. Gentleman has not yet focused on whether a simple refusal to carry out unsafe work would be industrial action. Our view—it was clearly and explicitly stated in Committee and I have explained the matter to the hon. Gentleman in person—is that a simple refusal to do unsafe work would not be industrial action. That is the issue that we have been debating.

    No, I must address the new clauses and amendments proposed by the Opposition.

    The new clauses and amendments go well beyond the essentially technical issues discussed in Committee. As I have already said, a simple refusal to work in unsafe conditions will not make employees liable to selective dismissal without the right to have a tribunal determine the unfairness of any such dismissal, but new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 19 and 24 seek to go very much further. In a nutshell, those Opposition amendments and new clauses seek to carve out some special protection for unofficial strikers, and the net result would be a charter for unofficial action.

    New clause 1 gives the game away by stating that industrial tribunal jurisdiction to determine the fairness of dismissal is to remain even if unofficial strikers are selectively dismissed for taking action about other matters.

    Clearly, that goes well beyond health and safety concerns, and the hon. Gentleman recognises that.

    Amendments Nos. 19 and 24 would undermine the intended effect of clause 7, as they would allow any unofficial striker who was selectively dismissed to get round the law simply by claiming that he had some health and safety concern. New clause 4 would mean that any employee who refused to work and subsequently claimed that he considered his work to be unsafe would have a right not to be selectively dismissed. That would apply even if it were patently obvious that the employee was taking industrial action, even if it was unofficial action, at the time of his dismissal. In other words, the amendments—individually or collectively—would drive a coach and horses through the present law on dismissal, let alone the new law on unofficial action in clause 7.

    Similarly, new clauses 7 and 8 seek to upset the well established and effective balance of responsibility set out in the Health and Safety At Work, etc. Act 1974. Those new clauses would unduly direct responsibility away from employers and employees and on to inspectors, which would seriously damage the effectiveness of inspectors in ensuring compliance with health and safety law.

    We believe that health and safety problems should be resolved by employers, who have the primary legal responsibility in co-operation with the employees who may be affected. Leaving everything to be decided by the inspectors, as is proposed, would remove the employers' incentive to assess and deal with workplace risks. If employers do not deal satisfactorily with health and safety problems, employees are and will remain free to contact their local health and safety inspector—in confidence, if they feel that that is appropriate. I need not remind the House that inspectors can visit without warning and can order work to be stopped if there is a risk of serious injury.

    A proliferation of committees, as proposed by new clause 8, would not work in this role, and such committees would inevitably conflict with the joint committees, statutory and voluntary, which already exist to monitor health and safety measures in individual workplaces.

    The key points of our concern about the new clauses and amendment No. 19 are that it is, and will continue to be, unlawful to work or to be asked to work in unsafe conditions, and no employee can be required by his employer to do something unlawful. If an employee simply refused to do work that he believed to be unsafe, he would not be taking industrial action. Thus, an industrial tribunal would have jurisdiction to determine whether dismissal was fair or unfair.

    No court and no tribunal has ever found that simple refusal to do unsafe work amounts to industrial action. Legislation on unfair dismissal enacted by the last Labour Government which made dismissal of strikers fair made no special provision for refusal to work on grounds of health and safety.

    This has been a useful exchange on a complicated and technical matter. I remain convinced that there is nothing incompatible between our commitment to maintaining high health and safety standards and the measures in the Bill to provide effective remedies and to deter unofficial industrial action.

    6.30 pm

    The Opposition amendments seek only to ameliorate the impact of clause 7. Like my hon. Friends, I regard the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) as helpful and I support them.

    This is an obnoxious Bill, and clause 7 is the offensive part of it. Indeed, the measures that the Government are introducing are the type of trade union legislation that is being swept away by eastern European countries as they find their freedom. The Minister knows as well as I do that legislation of this type was inflicted on the workers by dictator Ceausescu of Romania and is being cast aside as the Romanian people attain freedom.

    Clause 7 would remove the right of workers participating in any unofficial action to appeal to a tribunal on the ground of unfair dismissal. It would also remove their statutory rights to, for example, redundancy payments and pregnancy leave. The Government have become muddled. They continually confuse unofficial strikes with unofficial action. The Green Paper entitled "Unofficial Action and The Law" referred in paragraphs 1.2, 1.3, 1.5 and 1.14 to unofficial strikes and unofficial action in almost the same breath.

    Hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches, with experience of industrial affairs will be aware that unofficial strikes are generally spontaneous acts, such as walking off the job, whereas unofficial action can take a variety of forms, including a sit-down strike, a ban on overtime, a work to rule or a refusal to work in dangerous or unsafe places, with unsafe tools and equipment or with unsafe or dangerous materials and substances.

    I am particularly worried to note that a senior Minister believes that no worker in Britain is ever asked to work in unsafe conditions or with unsafe tools or materials and that no arguments ever occur over such matters. I assure him, having spent my working life in shipyards and ship repair yards—the Minister seems to be indicating dissent; he has never worked in such places—that people do work in conditions that are highly dangerous and often unsafe.

    The weakness in the Minister's argument lies in the question of who is to decide when there is a dispute between the work force and the employer over whether a practice, tool or substance is safe or dangerous. Frequently in those circumstances the argument is resolved by the workers simply walking away from the material or job.

    I am particularly worried about a situation that occurs frequently. When asbestos is found in a place of work where, for example, maintenance work is being undertaken, any worker would immediately walk off that job. Irrespective of the assurances given by the Minister, a worker taking such a step would immediately be at risk of losing his job because of the way in which clause 7 is drafted.

    That clause enables the employer to choose who to dismiss, and, once dismissed under the terms of clause 7, the employee would have no right to go to a tribunal. A tribunal would not have jurisdiction in such a case. The worker would have been dismissed because he participated in industrial action, and the clause makes it clear that a tribunal would have no jurisdiction in that case. As I said in an intervention, the Minister could remove all our fears by including a provision, similar to that which we recommend in our amendments, relating to health and safety.

    We appreciate that the best employers would never find themselves in such a situation, but there are rogue employers who might push workers in certain directions and who in some circumstances would be prepared to do so provocatively, seeking to create a confrontation. That would give an employer the opportunity to sack, for example, shop stewards or people with long service and considerable redundancy rights. An employer would have the right to get rid of pregnant women, who would then lose any rights that had accrued to them. One can envisage circumstances in which companies in financial difficulty would take action to reduce their compensation liabilities.

    Is it fair or just that workers should be put at risk in such circumstances? Opposition Members have done their best to concentrate their remarks on health and safety issues, although many other subjects could be discussed as we debate clause 7.

    The Minister repeated what the Under-Secretary of State said in Committee:
    "To reassure Opposition Members, I have tried to find out whether, since the unfair dismissal legislation was first introduced in 1971, there have been any recorded cases of industrial action being taken solely on the grounds of health and safety that have led to people being dismissed. Inevitably, it is rather hard to prove a negative, but I have found no instance of it".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 15 March 1990; c. 353.]
    That is hardly surprising because until now, the individuals concerned would have had the right to appeal to a tribunal on the ground of unfair dismissal. Any employer, even a rogue employer, would have known that he would be derided and laughed out of court the moment it was recognised that health and safety was the issue.

    Unless the Minister amends the legislation, either here or in another place, to protect workers by statute in health and safety cases, clause 7 will cause the Government considerable problems. The clause is specific. Any individual taking part in unofficial industrial action immediately exposes himself to selective dismissal. That will happen, as the Minister knows. I only hope that in the Lobbies tonight, Tory Members know what they are voting for.

    I wish to address my remarks to amendment (a) to new clause 1 and amendment (a) to new clause 4. I assume that my hon. Friend the Minister will have a few words to say about them. He said that there had been an interesting exchange: Front-Bench Members may have had an interesting exchange, but we are only now getting going on the group of amendments. I shall not take up too much time, as I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak.

    New clause 1 states:
    "An industrial tribunal shall have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for unfair dismissal".
    That does not necessarily mean that such a claim would be successful. If new clause 1 is passed with amendment (a) tacked on to it, industrial tribunals will take on a somewhat new role with a pre-hearing capacity. However, there is nothing strange or unusual about changing the nature and function of industrial tribunals.

    Industrial tribunals have been with us since 1964. There was a major change in 1971 and there may be major changes in the future. The first advantage of accepting amendment (a) would be that there would be encouragement for trade unions to get closer to their members if unofficial strike action was taken. Amendment (a) is designed to try to stop unofficial action getting out of control and to reduce to the bare minimum the danger of misunderstandings between trade unions and their members. It is also designed to encourage trade unions to intervene quickly and to let their members know that they are so intervening if unofficial action takes place or if it appears to members of the trade union that a grievance has not been dealt with quickly. It is also designed to try to put a brake on rash and hasty decisions by management which could occur if the Bill is passed unamended.

    I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments that I made in Committee. I have already drawn attention to the wording that must be used in the letter from a trade union to its members. I remain opposed to the way in which the words are written down, and to their tone and content. The letter must say:
    "Your union has repudiated any call for industrial action … If you are dismissed … you will have no right to complain of unfair dismissal."
    That is not the language of industrial relations in the 1990s. It is too far removed from reality and too much like first world war generals barking orders to those on the ground. It would have been perfectly possible to change those words and still put the onus on the trade unions to intervene quickly to settle the grievance and on those taking unofficial action to cease taking it while the trade union tried to sort out the problem.

    The most serious problem about new clause 1 is that it would take away the right of an individual to go to an industrial tribunal and for his case at least to be heard. In the often confused situation of an unofficial strike, there may be sudden dismissal of one or two people. To take away the right for a case to be looked at is neither reasonable nor correct. The Government have lost a sense of balance on the matter. I urge them to accept amendment (a) or to draft a provision similar to it in the other place.

    6.45 pm

    New clause 4, as at present drafted, could lead to misunderstandings, and it gives a great deal of freedom to the individual employee. It uses the words:
    "which the said employee considers to be dangerous to his health".
    It is common sense that we should put on some brake before people walk off the job because they consider the conditions to be unsafe.

    The channel tunnel and the accidents there have already been mentioned and the Opposition have already said that they propose to raise the matter further. Amendment (a) would lead to an avoidance of unnecessary confrontations between management and unions on the most important aspect of work—health and safety conditions. Under new clause 4, unofficial action would still be possible. The new clause could refer not only to one, but to two or three people whose selective dismissal could lead to widespread unofficial industrial action, and matters could soon become out of control.

    Amendment (a) is designed to achieve three objectives. First, it is designed to ensure that when there is an argument between employers and employees about safety at work, the advice of the Health and Safety Executive must be sought at once. That does not mean that the employer necessarily has to accept its advice, although it is hard to imagine that, if there was clear advice that the conditions were unsafe, an employer would be likely to brush aside the advice of the Health and Safety Executive. For that reason, it would be up to the employer to say to the employee, "You are dissatisfied and you consider that the working conditions are dangerous—I am seeking the advice of the Health and Safety Executive now and I expect that there will then be tripartite discussions between the Health and Safety Executive, the employer and the employee."

    Secondly, amendment (a) would give greater reassurance to employees who feel that they may be working in dangerous conditions that their anxieties would be dealt with quickly. Again, that would calm down industrial relations and give individual employees a greater sense of security in their work. Thirdly, amendment (a) is relevant to young people in their first job. Such people are reluctant to start an argument with an employer about whether conditions are safe or not.

    Amendment (a) would give greater protection to young employees. It would also give greater protection to female employees who might be equally unwilling and afraid to start an argument with an employer about safety conditions at work. More and more employers are seeking more and more women employees today. With the change to separate taxation, more women will seek employment. That puts an extra responsibility on Parliament to ensure that the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 is carried out properly and that there is no deterrent for women employees if they are concerned about conditions at work.

    Science and technology change all the time. New substances constantly appear and there is a whole mass of information on new substances at work. Again, that could lead to somebody saying, "I am sorry, I am not satisfied with the handling of this substance—I must ask that the Health and Safety Executive look at it before I go on with my work." Amendment (a) to new clause 4 would strengthen the Health and Safety Executive and health and safety committees. It would make employers go into more detail in their annual reports about what they had done about health and safety conditions, which would be all to the good. It would also improve contact between management and employees about a vitally important part of industrial relations.

    I have tried to turn a stumbling block into a stepping stone towards better industrial relations. I hope that Ministers will accept the amendments, but if they do not, it will be one of those days on which I must disagree with the Front Bench. The Conservative party is a centre-right coalition—a broad Church—and if there are disagreements between Conservative Members, that is par for the course and something which sometimes happens in Parliament.

    My amendments seek to clarify the position for individual employees. We should reduce the danger of misunderstandings at work to a minimum, as they can lead to unofficial industrial action, and once that starts it is difficult to control.

    It is a great pleasure to follow such a thoughtful speech as that of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) made a persuasive case for the new clause. I also congratulate my hon. Friends on the first-class job that they did in Committee.

    If employees find that they are in danger and take certain actions, are they protected? I have heard what the Minister has said, and the different legal opinions. At best, this is a grey area: the reasons why employees had taken certain actions could be disputed. For example, an employer could say that they had acted for one reason, while they could say that they had acted for health and safety reasons. Who is to decide?

    The new clause says that an industrial tribunal should have jurisdiction to decide whether those employees had a genuine and reasonable belief. Surely that could be accepted by the House for the avoidance of doubt, for it would make matters clear to everyone. If the Minister accepts that people in such circumstances should have the right to a defence, why does he oppose the new clause?

    My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) has said that, in his experience, disputes often blow up unexpectedly. I could cite an example from my own experience. In a previous incarnation, I was a health and safety representative on a national newspaper. I was a member of the mechanical committee, on which there were trade union and management representatives. It did not deal with pay or conditions; it dealt with the state of the machinery, and with such things as the ventilation system.

    On one occasion, we had a problem with the plates on a machine. Hon. Members will be familiar with the term "hot metal"; in those days there were hot metal plates on rotary presses, made of lead and other metals. The problem occurred when the plates started to break up on the print run. That was dangerous, as the plates were clamped on to the cylinders of high-speed rotary machines. If the plates broke, the centrifugal force sent the pieces of metal flying like shrapnel. As hon. Members can imagine, it was extremely dangerous.

    The technical director did not know why the plates were breaking up. Tests were made, and he genuinely tried to find out the answer. We worked at night; he worked during the day, and at night was lucky enough to be in bed. He said that if the problem recurred we should shut down the unit on the press and not touch it until he returned in the morning, so that he could investigate what had happened.

    There were many units on the press, including spare units. One night, as I was sitting in my office, I had a message that a plate had broken up again. I went to the machine room and told the machine operators that they were not to touch the unit, but to leave it until the technical director returned in the morning to examine it. However, a new junior member of the management came on to the scene and told the men to strip the unit, to put another load of plates on to the same unit and to continue with the job. I told him to hang on: we were following the technical director's instructions and leaving the unit as it was. He then got stroppy, and told us to get the unit stripped and to put new plates on.

    Obviously we were in something of a dilemma, but the machine operators did as I had suggested. The junior manager took umbrage, saying that we were to finish for the night and that there would be no paper. He then stormed off. I chatted with the men and we decided that his reaction had been over the top and silly, and we produced the paper that night without any management. We got on better than usual, as there was no harassment from management—we had discovered that they were not really necessary. We even produced the paper for a second night. The Daily Telegraph published an article about the dispute, but it could not understand that we were taking what was considered to be industrial action—although we were continuing to work—for reasons of health and safety rather than money.

    I have no doubt that there are many incidents such as the one I have referred to. I shall not mention the channel tunnel—although others may—as the Select Committee will take evidence on the matter. Such circumstances could arise at any time, and the workers should have the appropriate security and protection. The Minister agrees with that in principle, but the position is indeterminate. New clause 1 would provide the clarity that we need. People who decline to work in dangerous conditions should be protected. The Government should accept the new clause, or explain why not.

    My speech follows the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton)—the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment—who expressed misgivings about clause 7. The speeches of the hon. Members for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) showed that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that clause 7—the effects of which the new clause tries to mitigate—is serious, as it goes to the heart of individual rights. When I examined the Bill before it went into Committee, my initial reaction was that it was not worth trying to amend it, as that would give it some respectability. I considered it fundamentally unjust and unfair. However, some effort must be made to mitigate its effect.

    Questions of health and safety dominated our Committee debates, and I believe that new clauses 1 and 4 and the amendments of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North have tried to address the matter. Without some mitigation, we have what is tantamount to a victimisers' charter. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West drew some parallels with first world war generals in the way that clause 7 is drafted.

    The scenes that I fear are more reminiscent of the second world war. One can imagine an unscrupulous employer faced with unofficial action saying, "I shall select five workers at random each week and dismiss them unless you go back to work." The Bill opens up such opportunities to unscrupulous employers.

    7 pm

    The Minister has been generous in giving way, but he has not shown that he has grasped our argument. I believe that he genuinely wants improvements to be made in health and safety, but he did not say anything to suggest that he would take action to give substance to that desire. He seemed also to think that we were talking about defining what is and what is not an industrial dispute. If that were so, one could imagine a tribunal having to decide whether an industrial dispute was taking place on matters quite unrelated to health and safety. That may well happen, but we are talking about cases in which it is beyond doubt that an industrial dispute has been occasioned by the fact that employees are no longer prepared to stand for circumstances that they believe put their health and safety at risk.

    We are not talking about one individual who—to use the Minister's words—simply refuses to do something because a health and safety issue has arisen; we are talking about circumstances in which a group of employees in a workplace have been becoming more and more frustrated over a period of weeks, or perhaps months, with what they regard as their employer's failure to observe health and safety regulations. One incident may spark off that collective action. That is the sort of action that Opposition Members and, I think, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel), are trying to address. We are talking about employees using collective action to pressurise their employer to come up to scratch and provide decent safe conditions in the workplace.

    The Minister argued that the provision might open up a can of worms—a large loophole. With respect, he does not seem to have considered in detail the terms of new clause 1, which demands that the employee has
    "a genuine and reasonable belief"
    that the employer was acting in breach of his statutory duty. Clearly, if a spurious belief were used to try to justify unofficial action, that would not be covered by the new clause, as the test that it involves is a demanding one.

    The Minister also said that the new clause had a sting in its tale because the words
    "other matters connected with the terms and conditions of the employees of the employer"
    Could refer to so many other matters. But that phrase does not stand on its own. The new clause refers to a breach or perceived breach of statutory duty with regard to terms and conditions of employment. We are not, therefore, talking about any other matter. The definition is a narrow one. If the Minister wishes to give substance to his oft-repeated claim to be genuinely interested in health and safety, he should accept that this is one very narrow area and that those who participate in unofficial industrial action from the best motives connected with their own health and safety should not be subjected to possible victimisation by an unscrupulous employer.

    I shall he brief, because I know that we have a number of other subjects to cover.

    New clause 1 has extremely modest aims and ambitions and any reasonable Government would accept it, but I shall speak principally in support of new clauses 7 and 8, which concern the right of workers to call in a health and safety inspector if they believe that safety standards are being jeopardised and to obtain that inspector's approval of the safety standards of the operation before the work recommences. That is an eminently reasonable request, as any serious and objective study would recognise.

    If I said that 413 people had been killed in nine years as a result of terrorist outrages, the House would be crowded, there would be expressions of horror and the Government would be agreeing to introduce legislation to prevent a recurrence. But 413 people in the mines and quarries industry died between 1979 and 1988. Each year, accidents take their toll of life and limb, and several thousand people are seriously injured. If workers had the right to question safety standards and to take action if they thought that those standards were being prejudiced, many of those fatalities would have been avoided.

    Let me give an example. Scotch derrick cranes have been used extensively in quarries. They have fixed jibs. The Health and Safety Executive sent round a note saying that, if the pull holding the drum was made of cast iron, it should be replaced by a steel pull, because cast iron breaks. At Hungergantick quarry, the pulls were not replaced as had been recommended. The inspector from an insurance company could not tell the difference between steel and cast iron. One fateful morning, two workers got into the bucket and were lowered halfway down a quarry face. The pull broke, they plunged to the bottom and both were killed. Perhaps the workers would not have known about the difference between steel and cast iron, but they probably would.

    The crane was not well maintained. In works operations, people are always pressing maintenance men to do odd jobs and get things working. If the workers had had the right outlined in the new clauses, it is likely that that Scotch derrick crane would have been properly maintained, according to the requirement that the HSE had circulated to employers. Accidents of that sort could be avoided. We should realise that people who operate cranes or other dangerous machinery and who are lowered halfway down a quarry face or into the bowels of a mine in the course of their duties will have safety at the forefront of their minds, because they are the people who will be imperilled most if there are hazards at work.

    The Government are obsessed with trade unions, and the Bill contains many provisions dealing with balloting. But every year, bar exceptional years, we lose more working days as a result of industrial injury than from strike action. That being so, why do not the Government do something about the daily toll taken on life and limb and reduce the number of days lost through industrial injury?

    I should like to draw the House's attention to some peculiarities and to emphasise the fact that new clauses 7 and 8 might do something to hurry up the production of clearer standards. For many years, there have been discrepancies between the lifting of heavy weights regulations in the wool textile industry and in agriculture. For agricultural workers, the limit is 175 lb but for textile workers it is only 120 lb. That is absurd. Agricultural workers cannot necessarily lift heavier weights than textile workers, but that is the implication that the regulations carry. Other workers have to lift more reasonable weights.

    In 1976, the then chairman of the Health and Safety Commission assured me that the commission would be producing guidance on manual handling. That guidance is still awaited. If workers who daily have to lift heavy castings off a production line had the power to question safety standards and seek the assistance of health and safety inspectors, we might get some sense out of the arrangements and improve the regulations—and there are not many—that have been crying out for reform for many years.

    I should like to give the Minister some figures. In the nine months commencing 1 April in the year 1986–87, almost 30,000 people were off work for three or more days because of back injuries. For the same period in 1987–88, the figure was 30,002 and in 1988–89 it was 29,783. If we take an average full year, the figure for 1979 was 44,000; for 1980 it was 37,000; for 1981 it was 74,000; and for 1982 it was 66,000. I stress that I am talking about thousands of people being affected by serious injury.

    If we are serious about health and safety at work, we should give people the right to plead in an industrial tribunal that the reason for their course of action was the lack of decent health and safety standards. However, I would go further than that. I would give people the right to say, "We believe that these health and safety standards are not safe and we should like to call in a health and safety inspector to ascertain whether or not they are safe." Most decent employers would endorse that because most decent employers want proper standards of health and safety at work because they know that poor standards lead to all sorts of problems such as bad industrial relations and insurance companies wanting information when claims are made. It is a nightmare when serious industrial injuries occur.

    Therefore, I urge the Minister seriously to consider the new clauses and, even if he cannot accept them now, to have a word with his colleagues to ensure that amendments to their effect are tabled in another place.

    Unusual though this may seem, I fully agree with the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans), not only that this is an odious Bill, but that clause 7, which the Opposition amendments and new clauses seek to amend, is probably the worst aspect. That is why, during this Report stage, I an) restricting my comments to this matter although I am no stranger to the Committee stages of the Employment Acts that the House has considered in past years.

    The Bill is anti-working-class and anti-trade-union. It is designed to restrict the ability of trade unions to do the job that they were set up to do, which is to defend the rights and working conditions of their members and, through them, of their members' families.

    I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that the new clauses represent the minimum. It was wrong of the Minister to try to dismiss them as unworthy of consideration. I repeat that they represent the minimum that the House should accept on this matter.

    I should have preferred the House to debate stronger moves tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South seemed about to suggest that workers should have a legal right to stop unsafe jobs without having to worry about whether they were taking unofficial or official action and about whether they could or could not use an industrial tribunal. I believe that the legal right to stop an unsafe or dangerous job should be enshrined in our legislation but, unfortunately, that is not the road down which we are travelling.

    I also wish that we were talking about the mandatory use of prison sentences for employers or directors who are found to have been grossly negligent after a death or serious injury has occurred. I raised those points with the Prime Minister last Thursday but characteristically, she ignored them. As a result, 40 of my hon. Friends and I have tabled our points in early-day motion 969.

    I rise to speak on this group of amendments and new clauses especially because of the renewed interest in health and safety in recent days following the tragic death 10 days ago of Billy Cartman at the channel tunnel site. That death and that site encapsulate much of what is wrong with this country's health and safety legislation, especially in relation to construction sites. It is not only I who think that—the Health and Safety Executive has estimated that working on the channel tunnel is three times more dangerous even than working on a building site, and building sites are bad enough.

    The House and working people outside the House rightly get angry when a Piper Alpha, a Zeebrugge or a King's Cross occurs. We rightly feel anger about the tragic and useless waste of life in those major incidents and accidents. Yet the same number of people—about 160—are killed every year in the construction industry, but because the loss of life is diffuse, spread over the year and not concentrated in one incident, if does not attract the same attention.

    Therefore, I make no apology for speaking in these terms. It is not as though I have previously been accused of shroud-waving in the House. That is why I say that perhaps the only good that can come from useless and tragic accidents, such as the recent accident at the channel tunnel site, is that the minds of the people who should be in a position to do something about that—the legislators in this place—are concentrated wonderfully, albeit briefly

    7.15 pm

    There have already been six deaths on our side of the channel tunnel and three on the other side. As I said last Thursday, that is almost a man per mile. Like others outside the House, especially those who have to work on the channel tunnel, I believe that the workers there are being asked to work far too fast and far too hard because of the escalating cost of the project. The contractors have received warnings in the past, but it took that sixth death before the Secretary of State for Employment called in the senior management of Transmanche Link.

    I tabled a written question a few days ago about the outcome of that meeting with Jack Lemley, the chief executive of TML. The Minister on the Treasury Bench now, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), answered on behalf of the Secretary of State that Jack Lemley had assured the Secretary of State
    "that the highest priority would be given to ensuring the health and safety of workers employed on the construction of the channel tunnel".
    That answer does not sit easy with other reports. I could quote interviews reported in Militant with channel tunnel workers who do not wish to be named, but instead I will quote from a newspaper which is such that, I hope, even Conservative Members will not accuse me of choosing partial sources of information. I refer to The Independent of Wednesday 9 May. The workers interviewed by that newspaper refused to give their names precisely because of the clauses that we are debating and the fear that they might be dismissed for raising such points. The Independent reported workers as saying:
    '''It's push, push, push all the time.'
    Staff allege that: locomotives used in construction were regularly derailed; fires underground often went unreported; visibility in many areas was dangerously low; carbon dioxide fumes often rose above safe levels; injured men, including workers with broken legs, were left untreated at the tunnel face until the shift ended and workers who complained about lack of safety were threatened with disciplinary action or demoted to lower-paid work.
    One locomotive driver who refused to drive over a section of track which he felt would derail his train was sent out of the marine tunnel south and restricted to working in the service tunnel. 'You're not allowed to complain. If you complain, you're out. It's like being in a military camp, you do what you're told,' he said."
    That is the sort of atmosphere that has been engendered in some construction projects, especially in the south-east where, because of the pressure of escalating costs and profit margins being ever tighter, the work is push, push, push. That is the atmosphere that the new clauses seek to address. They seek to give workers a safety net so that they can escape the sword of Damocles hanging about them and the fear that they can be dismissed for having taken what can be described as "unofficial action" if they complain about health and safety matters.

    Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, I have spoken to people who have campaigned both at the channel tunnel and elsewhere, such as in my own region of the midlands, and know workers who are afraid to put their heads above the parapet. One reason is that there are people and firms in the construction industry who are heavily involved in and are financing bodies such as the Economic League, which keep lists of workers who complain. Then, when they are dismissed—usually on the pretext of being late for work or for some other reason unconnected with health and safety matters—they are unable to get another job.

    I shall limit my remarks because other hon. Members wish to speak and other issues need to be raised before we complete our consideration of the Bill today. It is no good the Minister saying that there are mechanisms such as fines to deal with breaches of health and safety rules. The five TML companies have been fined a maximum of £10,000 each for one death which occurred last February and were previously each fined £1,700. That does not concentrate the minds of directors of companies which are making millions of pounds of profit, but a prison sentence of between six and 24 months, if not longer, would certainly do so. The prospect of a prison sentence at the end of their tunnel if gross negligence was proved might lead directors to take their jobs more seriously and concentrate their minds on health and safety matters.

    The Minister and other Conservative Members have said that the aim of their provisions is to limit unofficial action. I warn the Minister that such is the mood among many construction and other workers in dangerous jobs that I can foresee a time—it may well be this year—when there will be a one-day strike about health and safety issues on projects such as the channel tunnel. It may well be an unofficial strike—I do not think that workers will worry about that if so many of them take part, and they will certainly have the widespread support of other workers in other trade unions around the country.

    The Minister has the chance today to prevent such things from happening. He should accept the minimal demands of my hon. Friends and our new clauses. If he does not, that will be on his conscience. He will know that he could have done something today to prevent the loss of life and limb and to avert the need for action, official or unofficial, in protest at the carnage occurring in industry today.

    I wished to make many points in the debate tonight, but I shall not make them all because there are restrictions on time, which I understand.

    I wish to take up the Minister on what I consider to be some bland statements that he made about the way in which industrial law as it stands will enable people to take cases to industrial tribunals. Like many people—on both sides of the House, I am sure—I come from industry. I know that the nuances, subtleties and interpretations of which he spoke earlier are so much hogwash. The day-to-day basis of most people's experience in industry is different. In my experience, when people try to defend themselves before industrial tribunals, the charge on which they have been dismssed from work is never a refusal to do a job because it is dangerous. The major charge is always different. The full force of the empoloyers' argument is always spent on undermining the employee's case that he or she did not wish to go into a dangerous place.

    Health and safety has dogged industrial relations ever since industrial relations began. In industry we are often working on the frontiers of technology. Changes may occur which simply cannot be legislated for in a general way as the Bill attempts to do. I remember when roof bolting was introduced into pits. Men would say, "Those roof bolts are not safe." The employer believed that they were safe and time and again they would argue that experience in America showed that roof bolting was perfectly safe. I have no doubt that in many geological circumstances that is true. But to men venturing into dangerous areas of mines who were used to working under steel arches the sight of a coal face or area of a mine supported only by roof bolting militated against everything that they understood about mining safety.

    When men refused to go into such areas, they were threatened with dismissal. That happened on many occasions. I know for a fact that that was used after the miners' strike as a means of getting rid of undesirable teams, as they were considered by management, in an era of industrial relations when fear stalked many pits and there was no sense of self-confidence about industrial relations.

    The other extreme is areas where the dangers do not seem great, such as a large office where there may be people using computer visual display units. We are only now beginning to understand the effect on health and safety of working on VDUs. If people walk out of an office saying that they do not believe that their work is safe in the long term, who is to rule in favour of one party or another? Under the Bill it would constitute an unofficial action, a walk out, rag out, call it what one will.

    Who is to say to workers in the nuclear industry, after the findings of the Gardiner report are published, that they must go into an area about which they harbour great fears even though they worked there previously? At the innovative edge of technology there will be many problems that the Bill does not address. There is no room for ambiguity or vague promises of interpretation or subtleties. Health and safety provision must be included in a way that people can understand. It must be simple enough for both employers and employees to understand. Employees must have confidence in the legislation. If not, the trade unions will lose another function—the policing of their own work forces. There will be a degree of anarchy in industry which neither employers nor trade unions want. I fear that the Government do not understand that point. We shall end up with worse industrial relations and health and safety than we have now.

    We have had a useful debate and I shall try to respond briefly to as many as possible of the points that have been raised.

    I fully understand the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). We cannot take employees' health and safety seriously enough. As I said in my opening remarks, that is common ground on both sides of the House. I certainly share my hon. Friend's wish that trade unions should do all that they can to resolve industrial disputes and get their members back to work. Trade unions should always have that objective in mind.

    I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that employers should seek advice from the Health and Safety Executive whenever it may be helpful. In our view, his amendments would not achieve those common objectives, but we are prepared to consider whether the proposed words for the union's repudiation statement are the best and most apt in all circumstances. I know that that has been a matter of concern to him both on Second Reading and in Committee, and I assure him that we shall not close our minds on that issue.

    The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) postulated an example of an industrial dispute. I am somewhat wary of following up such examples, because each case must be decided by an industrial tribunal. He postulated an example of a long-term health and safety worry, as did the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). If employees are worried about either imminent or long-term health and safety issues, they are always free to call in an inspector. As I said earlier, that can be done on a confidential basis if that is appropriate.

    The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has had a long-running interest in health and safety regulations with regard to manual handling. We hope that all European Community member states will shortly agree unanimously a directive on manual handling. He will be interested to know that much of that directive is based on a consultative document issued by the Health and Safety Commission.

    The hon. Members for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) slightly misconstrued what we have said. We have never said that employees who take unofficial industrial action are protected against selective dismissal. The issue is whether there is any industrial action at all. If not—and we say that there is no industrial action where employees stop work because of fears for their safety—those dismissed have the right to complain of unfair dismissal. Their position will be the same as before the Bill.

    In response to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), let me say that section 36 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 provides for industrial managers and directors to be prosecuted for breaches of health and safety. Indeed, in certain circumstances, that Act allows for imprisonment. It is not correct to say that that section has never been applied. A company director was successfully prosecuted for manslaughter following the death of an employee in May 1988. He received a suspended prison term of two years.

    The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment, suggested that it might be appropriate to explore the root of an avoidance of doubt provision. We considered that in some detail, but we came to the conclusion that the present position was preferable. It is not something that we have simply overlooked. We have explored that possibility.

    The hon. Members for Stretford and for Coventry, South-East asked about the situation on the channel tunnel. We are unaware of any industrial action about health and safety issues on the channel tunnel site. Although there is widespread anxiety about health and safety on the channel tunnel site, the precise area covered by the Bill has not arisen in that context. Rather than choosing his newspaper, Militant, the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East quoted from The Independent. I shall quote from The Independent on Sunday of 13 May, which quoted a senior TGWU shop steward as saying:
    "The Channel tunnel site is well disciplined with an excellent industrial relations team and there is no evidence of production being put before safety."

    7.30 pm

    I will not give way. I gave way earlier to the hon. Gentleman.

    We have had a useful debate on what is essentially a technical matter. The Government are every bit as committed to maintaining and improving health and safety at work as the Opposition. We are convinced that clause 7 does nothing to undermine the excellent health and safety record that the country has achieved as a result of the bipartisan policy following the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

    Although this may be a technical issue for the Government, it is a matter of life and death for the people whom my hon. Friends and I and, indeed, Tory Members represent.

    Whereas the Minister uses legalistic sophistry to argue whether action is industrial action, we are anxious that people should have a legitimate opportunity to withdraw their labour and protest in that form if their lives are threatened, for example, on the channel tunnel site. If the Minister accepts that they will be prevented from doing so by the provisions of the Bill, he fails to understand how dangerous working conditions are in the tunnel.

    The Minister believes that there is something to be undermined in our wonderful health and safety structures. I remind him that his Government are underfunding the Health and Safety Executive to the extent that it is having to make cuts. They have consistently run down the executive so that it is unable to do the job that Parliament asks of it.

    I invite the Minister to have a debate on health and safety at any time in the House. We shall be delighted to put the Government on the spot.

    The Minister will understand why I do not give way. He has had his say.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) was right in his comment about the construction industry. It has a terrible record. If the Minister believes that the position is satisfactory, and if his only defence is that one employer was given a suspended prison sentence, putting that forward as evidence that the law is applied, he does not understand that people are being seriously injured and killed at work. We will do everything that we can to prevent that.

    As my hon. Friends have pointed out, we have tabled minimal new clauses and amendments to give the narrowest of protections to people at work. The fact that the Government are not prepared to accept even those minimal demands shows that they do not care about health and safety. For that reason, we shall vote for the new clause.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

    The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 176.

    Division No. 214]

    [7.33 pm


    Abbott, Ms DianeBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
    Allen, GrahamBuchan, Norman
    Anderson, DonaldBuckley, George J.
    Armstrong, HilaryCaborn, Richard
    Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCallaghan, Jim
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Campbell-Savours, D. N.
    Battle, JohnCarlile, Alex (Mont'g)
    Beckett, MargaretClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyClay, Bob
    Bermingham, GeraldCohen, Harry
    Bidwell, SydneyCook, Robin (Livingston)
    Blair, TonyCorbett, Robin
    Boateng, PaulCorbyn, Jeremy
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Cryer, Bob
    Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Cummings, John

    Cunliffe, LawrenceMarek, Dr John
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
    Dixon, DonMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
    Doran, FrankMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
    Dunnachie, JimmyMartlew, Eric
    Eadie, AlexanderMaxton, John
    Eastham, KenMeale, Alan
    Evans, John (St Helens N)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
    Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Moonie, Dr Lewis
    Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morley, Elliot
    Fisher, MarkMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Flannery, MartinMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMowlam, Marjorie
    Foster, DerekMurphy, Paul
    Foulkes, GeorgeNellist, Dave
    Fyfe, MariaOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Galloway, GeorgeO'Brien, William
    Garrett, John (Norwich South)O'Neill, Martin
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Golding, Mrs LlinPatchett, Terry
    Gould, BryanPike, Peter L.
    Graham, ThomasPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Primarolo, Dawn
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Quin, Ms Joyce
    Grocott, BruceRedmond, Martin
    Haynes, FrankRichardson, Jo
    Henderson, DougRobertson, George
    Hinchliffe, DavidRobinson, Geoffrey
    Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Rogers, Allan
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Ruddock, Joan
    Home Robertson, JohnSalmond, Alex
    Howells, GeraintSheerman, Barry
    Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Short, Clare
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Skinner, Dennis
    Illsley, EricSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Ingram, AdamSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
    Janner, GrevilleSnape, Peter
    Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Soley, Clive
    Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldTurner, Dennis
    Leighton, RonWallace, James
    Lewis, TerryWalley, Joan
    Litherland, RobertWarden, Gareth (Gower)
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
    McAllion, JohnWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
    McAvoy, ThomasWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    McFall, JohnWinnick, David
    McKelvey, WilliamWray, Jimmy
    McLeish, HenryYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    McWilliam, John
    Madden, Max

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Madel, David

    Mr. Allan McKay and Mr. Frank Haynes.

    Mahon, Mrs Alice


    Aitken, JonathanBudgen, Nicholas
    Alexander, RichardBurns, Simon
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelButler, Chris
    Amos, AlanCarlisle, John, (Luton N)
    Arbuthnot, JamesCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Carrington, Matthew
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Carttiss, Michael
    Atkins, RobertChannon, Rt Hon Paul
    Atkinson, DavidChapman, Sydney
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Chope, Christopher
    Baldry, TonyClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
    Benyon, W.Conway, Derek
    Bevan, David GilroyCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCurry, David
    Body, Sir RichardDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Boscawen, Hon RobertDavis, David (Boothferry)
    Boswell, TimDay, Stephen
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Dickens, Geoffrey
    Bowis, JohnDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardDover, Den
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinDunn, Bob
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Durant, Tony

    Eggar, TimMellor, David
    Evennett, DavidMeyer, Sir Anthony
    Fallon, MichaelMiller, Sir Hal
    Farr, Sir JohnMills, Iain
    Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Miscampbell, Norman
    Fishburn, John DudleyMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Forman, NigelMoate, Roger
    Fox, Sir MarcusMonro, Sir Hector
    Franks, CecilMontgomery, Sir Fergus
    Freeman, RogerMorris, M (N'hampton S)
    Gardiner, GeorgeMorrison, Sir Charles
    Garel-Jones, TristanMoss, Malcolm
    Gill, ChristopherMoynihan, Hon Colin
    Glyn, Dr Sir AlanNeubert, Michael
    Goodlad, AlastairNewton, Rt Hon Tony
    Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesNicholls, Patrick
    Gorman, Mrs TeresaNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Gow, IanNorris, Steve
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Oppenheim, Phillip
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
    Ground, PatrickPatnick, Irvine
    Hague, WilliamPawsey, James
    Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Porter, David (Waveney)
    Hanley, JeremyPortillo, Michael
    Hannam, JohnPowell, William (Corby)
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Raffan, Keith
    Harris, DavidRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
    Hawkins, ChristopherRedwood, John
    Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyRenton, Rt Hon Tim
    Hayward, RobertRhodes James, Robert
    Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Riddick, Graham
    Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRidsdale, Sir Julian
    Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Rost, Peter
    Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Rowe, Andrew
    Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Ryder, Richard
    Hunter, AndrewSackville, Hon Tom
    Irvine, MichaelSainsbury, Hon Tim
    Irving, Sir CharlesShaw, David (Dover)
    Jack, MichaelShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Jackson, RobertShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Janman, TimShelton, Sir William
    Jessel, TobyShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
    Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
    Key, RobertSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Kilfedder, JamesSoames, Hon Nicholas
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Speed, Keith
    Kirkhope, TimothyStanbrook, Ivor
    Knapman, RogerSteen, Anthony
    Knight, Greg (Derby North)Stevens, Lewis
    Knowles, MichaelStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
    Knox, DavidStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Latham, MichaelSumberg, David
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    Lilley, PeterThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Thurnham, Peter
    Lord, MichaelTracey, Richard
    McCrindle, RobertWalker, Bill (T'side North)
    Maclean, DavidWatts, John
    Malins, HumfreyWiddecombe, Ann
    Mans, KeithYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Marshall, David (Shettleston)
    Maude, Hon Francis

    Tellers for the Noes

    Mawhinney, Dr Brian

    Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Timothy Wood.

    Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick

    Question accordingly negatived.

    New Clause 2

    Refusal Of Employment On Grounds Related To Previous Trade Union Activities

    'It shall be unlawful to refuse a person employment because of his trade union activities in any previous employment.'.— [Mr. Tony Lloyd.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second Time.— [Mr. Tony Lloyd.]

    With this it will be convenient to consider the following: new clause 3—Refusal of employment to person on register kept by organisation compiling information about suitability of individuals for employment

    'Where there is an arrangement or practice under which an employer will not offer employment to a person whose name is on a register kept by an organisation which compiles information about people in connection with their suitability for employment and that information includes information about a person's trade union activity, then a person who is refused employment in pursuance of that arrangement or practice, shall be held to have been refused employment by reason of his trade union activities.'.

    Amendment No. 20, in clause 1, page 1, line 12 at end add—

    '(c) because without his knowledge his name has been supplied to his prospective employer by a third party from an unpublished or secret register'.

    Amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 23, at end add—

    '(e) offers, and then subsequently withdraws the offer of employment without giving a satisfactory explanation for the withdrawal of the offer of employment.'.

    Amendment No. 22, in clause 2, page 2, line 40 at end add—

    '(c) because without his knowledge his name has been supplied to the agency by a third party from an unpublished or secret register.'.

    It gives me great pleasure to speak to the new clauses and amendments, not least because they are good additions to what is not a constructive or good Bill for the current needs of our industrial relations. In the main, the new clauses are designed to outlaw the unacceptable practice adopted by British employers of blacklisting genuine and ordinary trade unionists. They are also a good test of the Government's sincerity when they claim equity and balance. Earlier in the debate a Conservative Member spoke about the need for a sense of balance.

    Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill seek to make it unlawful to discriminate against a potential employee whether or not he is a member of a trade union. Clause 2 states that, if an employment agency puts out an advertisement for a worker which says that the person appointed should be a member of a trade union, and if that person is subsequently refused employment, it can be deemed that he was refused employment because he refused to join or was not a member of a trade union.

    In Committee, we argued that a distinction should be made between trade union membership and trade union activity. The Government repeatedly said that there was no need to do that because the two things were one and the same. We are again asking the Government to make that distinction and to ensure that quite sinister organisations, especially the Economic League, will not be at liberty to provide information about potential employees. Such information invariably includes details of trade union activity.

    The Government see nothing wrong or contradictory in allowing the secret practices of that secret organisation to continue. In Committee we witnessed for the first time Ministers forcefully defending that organisation and its activities. I am sure that many of my colleagues will agree that that is disgraceful, because anybody who is aware of what that organisation does could not possibly support it in an open society.

    On a number of occasions over recent years, people from west Cumberland have come to my surgery and my home to complain that they have been blacklisted by local employers and contracting organisations—not only in west Cumberland, but on the Sellafield site. It is a disturbing development. Ministers must not look lightly on these serious matters. We need legislative reform because they are an invasion of our constituents' civil liberties. Ministers must not casually brush it aside.

    I intend to refer to some of the practices of the Economic League that have resulted not only in people being blacklisted and therefore unable to obtain work, but in innocent people being blacklisted. Wrong information has been passed on about people and, consequently, they have been refused employment. We might never know the numbers involved, because the information is secret, but they could run into thousands or even tens of thousands. Ordinary working people and ordinary, respectable trade unionists involved in legitimate trade union activities, have had their lives ruined because the practices of the Economic League have prevented them from obtaining gainful employment.

    Hon. Members may not be familiar with the practices of the Economic League. After all, for almost 60 years its work was conducted in secret. The league contacted members of the Committee and set out, in part, what it considers to be its role in the recruitment of employees. It said:
    "The existence of revolutionary organisations whose aim is to damage companies by fermenting unrest is well proven. Revolutionary organisations conceal their identity behind fronts and they use every artifice and method to achieve their aims. Therefore employers have a right, even a duty, to protect the interests of their companies, shareholders and employees alike. They need access to an information service that can help them to identify people who, by their membership or support of revolutionary bodies, can be expected to pose a threat to good relations in the company. The League supplies this information."
    There is one problem with that. The information that the league provides—or at least, its interpretation of it—is quite different from reality. Fortunately, some investigative journalism—in particular, the Granada "World in Action" programme—has exposed the sinister activities of the league, as have books such as the "The Economic League—The Silent McCarthyism" by Mark Hollingsworth and Charles Tremayne. They have exposed what the league is up to.

    The league includes in its list of revolutionary organisations Christian Aid, Oxfam, War on Want, Greenpeace, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, trade unions and one of the most popular political parties, the Labour party. Those activities, in which ordinary people engage, are revealed to employers to use as an excuse for refusing gainful employment. The paranoia revealed by such an organisation is a threat to open industrial relations, and the Government should support the new clause.

    What evidence is in the book to suggest that employers have refused jobs to people who are members or supporters of the organisations that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned?

    I do not have time to go through all the examples set out in the book. I shall simply choose a page at random and cite two examples. The first was exposed by "World in Action". Mr. Roy Turnbull, a labourer from Newcastle upon Tyne, was for some considerable time refused employment because of his political activities. In fact, Mr. Turnbull belonged to no political party and he said in his testimony that he had never even bothered to vote.

    Similarly, Mr. Ken Martin—another labourer from Newcastle upon Tyne—was blacklisted because of information about his political activities that was passed on by the Economic League. That information was false. It accused Mr. Martin of being a long-standing member of the Communist party. As a result, for some considerable time he could not obtain gainful employment. The information was not true because Mr. Martin was not, and never has been, a member of the Communist party. I could cite more examples, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the book or looks at the "World in Action" video.

    The nature of the Economic League is revealed in the way that it gathers its information. It is known to use spies, private detectives, election nomination forms and press cuttings. That is unreliable, clandestine and sinister. The organisation is secretive and sinister in four ways. First, its existence remained a secret for many, many years. Indeed, its existence was denied only recently. Secondly, the organisations and companies affiliated to the Economic League were also secret until recent exposures. I am glad to say that many reputable companies which were previously affiliated have now broken their association because they have recognised the mood of the people of the country—something which the Government, if they do not support the new clause, will fail to do.

    Thirdly, the organisation is secret and it keeps its information secret. Indeed, it refuses to put its information on computer but instead keeps manual records that do not come under the Data Protection Act. That is worrying in this day and age and it is another sign of the secret activity of that organisation. Finally, the organisation is secret because the information that it passes to employers about potential employees is secret. In particular, those potential employees do not have access to that information. They do not know what has been said about them. Like the two people whom I cited earlier, they do not have an opportunity to defend themselves. That is disgraceful.

    The Government have an opportunity tonight to accept the new clause and the other amendments that we are discussing that relate specifically to trade union activity. Indeed, they have a clear choice—a closed society with closed industrial relations where secretive and sinister organisations can interfere with the smooth running of the labour market in general and recruitment of suitable labour in particular; or an open society where people, especially trade unionists, know exactly what is being said about them behind closed doors. They can then engage in the legitimate trade union activity that we have experienced in Wales.

    It was interesting to note that in the rising unemployment figures released today, Wales did not suffer as badly as other regions. We have had some success in inward investment because we have the highest density trade union membership in the country. Those ordinary trade unionists make a major contribution to the economic well-being of the country.

    8 pm

    I fully support the new clause. It is unacceptable that those actively involved in trade unions should be discriminated against when it comes to applying for employment. It is even more unacceptable that there should be an organisation such as the Economic League, the main function of which—the reason why it came into existence at the end of the first world war—it to draw up a list of those who, in the view of those who run the organisation, should not be taken on by companies.

    The Ecomomic League is funded by a number of large companies. I am pleased to note that more recently, perhaps in the past two or three years and certainly since the television programme, the Economic League has not received the same amount of funding as previously. Nevertheless, it continues to receive quite a large chunk of money.

    British United Industrialists, an organisation responsible for receiving funds from companies and passing them on to the Tory party, also acts as a paymaster for the Economic League. It may be of some interest that some 57 companies which subscribe financially to the Tory party also subscribe to the Economic League, so the link is clear.

    Yes. I am not surprised.

    The Economic League engages in a number of undeniable habits which should be deplored. For example, officials infiltrate private, political and trade union meetings. They like to get their hands on the attendance lists and use them for their own purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) made the point that they also indulge in making a note of those who nominate candidates for local and national elections. All that is for one purpose—to draw up the dossier and to use it for the purposes of discrimination when it comes to employment.

    The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) asked where is the evidence of such discrimination. In the book already referred to, "The Economic League—The Silent McCarthyism", reference is made to Malvyn Barton, a loyal member of his local Conservative club for nearly 10 years. He was a rather reluctant member of a trade union, but for some reason he was branded a militant. His name appeared on the Economic League's list and, as a result, he has been penalised. He has been unemployed for the past six years and is a bitter man. He said:
    "I've always got impeccable references that could get me a job but being on a blacklist is like banging your head against a brick wall. My reputation is now in rags."
    The Economic League has not refuted that there is such a dossier on that person.

    Derek Ogg is an Edinburgh solicitor whose case should interest Conservative Members. He was chairman of his local Young Conservatives and stood as a Conservative party candidate in the regional and district council elections, but he was listed by the Economic League as an anarchist. The explanation was that he was associated with a magazine which had been on sale in a radical bookshop.

    I do not deny that many—perhaps a large majority—or those on the list are active trade unionists and proud to be so—they are not like the two cases to which I have just referred—but in a democratic society, is it wrong for an active trade unionist who takes pride in his trade union membership to want to recruit those who are not in a trade union? Of all the functions of a democratic society—all the things which are not allowed in a dictatorship, fascist or communist—why should that one be the subject of a list kept by a central organisation funded by companies so that the people listed can be penalised, often for years on end?

    I wish to refer to two cases nearer home. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is not necessarily considered the most revolutionary member of the Opposition. In the early 1940s, before he went to Ruskin college, my right hon. Friend was a worker and a shop steward in a factory. He was put on the list for no other reason than that he was an active trade unionist and proud of it.

    Perhaps even nearer home is my own case. When I finished my Army national service, I went to work in a clerical capacity in engineering. I was an active trade unionist and regularly attended trade union meetings and the annual conference of my union. Two years ago, my union, honoured me with its highest award—it may not seem much to Conservative Members because there is no commercial involvement, but I am proud to be the holder of a gold medal from my union. As an active lay member of my union, I sought then to ensure that, wherever I worked, I would try to recruit non-unionists in engineering establishments into my union, and I make no apology for that. I was put on the London Engineering Employers Federation blacklist for no other reason than my trade union activities.

    That was in the mid-1950s, but fortunately in the area where I was living at the time there was no unemployment problem. I could not get work in federated firms, so I went to non-federated firms and had no difficulty in getting employment there. Employers would probably have considered me a conscientious worker. Yet I could not work in any federated firms because I was on the blacklist, merely because I was an active trade unionist. That is a deplorable state of affairs, not because of my experience as such but because of all the other people who are subject to such action.

    There seem to be links between the Economic League and the police and special branch. A former official of the Economic League, Richard Brett, who was featured on the television programme as having worked for the Economic League, became somewhat disillusioned. He said that, during his days as an official of the Economic League, he regularly gave talks to the local police on industrial subversion. There is an allegation—the Minister will not be able to respond to this, because it is more a matter for the Home Office—that the Economic League continues to receive information from the police as well as passing information to them. If that is true, it is a further reason why we should deplore the activities of that organisation. I hope that the Home Secretary will look into those allegations and, if they are true, ensure that such actions do not continue.

    Fortunately, we live in a political democracy, in a free society, and the freedoms that we have built up are precious, certainly to Opposition Members. Those freedoms, those civil liberties, are seriously eroded when people are penalised simply because of their trade union work, and that is completely unacceptable.

    If new clause 2 is not acceptable to the Government—I do not think that it will be—I only hope that, after the next general election, the Labour Government will look at all those aspects and take measures to make such discrimation unlawful. We should have done that before, but I hope that we shall do it next time. If the law is so changed, it will further help to strengthen the freedoms that we already have in Britain. New clause 2 should be enthusiastically supported.

    Many hysterical comments have been made, without evidence to back them up. We heard many accusations on Second Reading and I understand that there were one or two lively debates on the subject in Committee.

    I have taken the trouble to talk to the Economic League and it has written to me, and I want to inject a touch of realism and accuracy into the debate. I begin by quoting the league's objectives:
    "The Economic League collects and analyses extremist papers, magazines, reports and leaflets of left and right alike. Where industries or companies are mentioned by name, we let them know. Where the threat is more general we bring it to wider public attention.
    This is just one of the ways in which the League is supporting freedom, free enterprise and democracy against those who are working to destroy it.
    We provide an industrial relations advisory service to industry and commerce, particularly aimed at countering politically motivated industrial unrest and the creation of more positive attitudes."
    Its aims are clear.

    The hon. Gentleman seeks to defend the league's activities. Does he believe that the information that the league retains on its files should be publicly available, so that people who suspect that information held on them is inaccurate may have the right to appeal?

    Yes, people who are the subject of information held by the Economic League should have the right to see it. The Economic League says that people have that very right. Anyone who believes that they appear on an Economic League blacklist can write in, and the league will reply, confirming whether or not it holds any information on them. That is what the Economic League claims. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) claims that he is on an Economic League list, but has he ever written to the organisation to ascertain whether that is the case?

    The hon. Gentleman cannot be serious when he makes that suggestion. He must think that people are very naive. I did not suggest that I am on an Economic League list—I may be, or I may not. I explained rather that I had been on a blacklist kept by an employers' organisation.

    The hon. Gentleman gave the impression that he is on an Economic League blacklist. I have to say that he was being a little misleading, but I accept now that he was not attempting to suggest that he was on a list kept by the Economic League. The fact remains that one of the league's raisons d'être is to identify industrial saboteurs and make information relating to them available to the companies that subscribe to its services. What is wrong with that?

    Last year, the newspaper Scotland on Sunday reported that the league was setting up a list on environmentalists. Do they come within the hon. Gentleman's definition of industrial saboteurs?

    It does not sound to me as though environmentalists should be included in that category, but I cannot be sure that there is any truth in the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Does he know whether there is any substance to that allegation?

    A number of unsubstantiated claims about the league's activities have been made, and I shall refer to them later. Clearly, the Labour party wants to put the Economic League out of business, but the only people to benefit would be left-wing extremists who want to wreak industrial havoc in this country. Perhaps that is what Opposition Members want. If so, their amendments amount to a wreckers' charter.

    Several Opposition Members suggested that the league is anti-union and discriminates against trade union members. The league vehemently denies that accusation. I quote from the brochures that the league sends to prospective clients—companies that have expressed an interest in the services that if offers:
    "The League is in favour of employees voluntarily joining a trade union, having it represent them and negotiate on their behalf. If the union and the company fail to agree, the League recognises the right of the union to call on its members to take industrial action, provided that they are properly consulted."
    8.15 pm

    Individuals named in various "World in Action" programmes claimed that they were listed by the Economic League because of their trade union activities, and were as a result refused jobs. I asked the league whether there was any truth in those accusations. Mr. Hardy, the director-general of the league, wrote to me on 9 May:
    "The League has no record on the individuals named in the programmes. Furthermore, none of the individuals named has ever either written to us to complain or commenced legal action against us. None of them has ever communicated with us about our alleged blacklisting of them."
    I suggest that Opposition Members ask the people named in the "World in Action" reports to contact the Economic League, to establish whether that is true. If those individuals have not done so, or fail to do so, they can hardly go round making wild allegations about being on an Economic League blacklist. The House may be interested to know that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission found that Granada TV's "World in Action" programme
    "constituted unjust and unfair treatment of the League."
    Do Opposition Members think it would be sensible for a company that employs, for example, a high percentage of Asian workers to employ also an individual having links with the National Front? Of course not. That is the kind of information that the league can provide.

    What evidence does the hon. Gentleman have to support that accusation? He has none. He simply makes another wild allegation.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is no way of knowing for certain whether the league holds information on a particular individual—because what it does, it does in secret?

    I repeat that anyone who believes that they are listed by the league should contact the organisation—[Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but the league has made it clear that it is willing to allow Members of Parliament to visit its offices and inspect its files.

    I can show the hon. Gentleman correspondence that I have received, as someone involved in the Anti-Blacklisting Campaign, from a gentleman who suspected that he was listed by the Economic League. I saw the league's reply, on its letterhead, and it requested him to give a great deal of information about himself—including his name, present addresses, past address, trade union membership, political activities, and so on—and to submit it together with a small fee. In other words, " Please blacklist yourself."

    Surely the hon. Lady would want the Economic League to make absolutely certain that the person requesting such information is really the same person appearing in its files—which clearly is of great importance.

    Opposition Members claim that the league is trying to avoid the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1984, yet the league itself says that it would have no difficulty in conforming to an extension of that Act to cover manual records. It claims that it would welcome such an extension. I quote again from the letter that I received from the league's director-general:
    "Our archives are open for inspection at any time by the Data Protection Registrar and our systems were fully inspected during 1989. The Data Protection Registrar gave us a clean bill of health."
    That inspection related to information held on computer. However, the league has made it clear to me that it would be happy for the provisions of the Act to be extended to manual records. Its director-general adds:
    "In addition we would be happy to host an all-party deputation of Members of Parliament at our Archive Centre. They will then be able to see the system at work for themselves."
    I suggest that Opposition Members take up that offer.

    Good. I am glad to hear that from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

    The actions of the Government will probably diminish the role and the importance of the Economic League because only when the industrial situation is ripe for saboteurs are the services of such organisations necessary. The Government's trade union legislation has made it more difficult for people to subvert trade unions and industries, and I welcome that. It means that the work of the league is less in demand now than it was.

    The hon. Gentleman has made an offer and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) will take him up on it and visit the league. He also mentioned what information it would make available to us. I think that he mentioned that we would be able to see the records, how information is recorded, what is recorded and how manual and computerised record systems work. Judging by what he has been told, can he say that all that will be made available to us as Members of Parliament?

    I cannot speak on behalf of the Economic League. I can only quote what is contained in this letter to me. It will be printed in Hansard tomorrow.

    The hostility of many Labour Members of Parliament to the organisation, without any proof of wrongdoing, is a poor reflection on them because the league's purpose is to contribute towards upholding industrial peace. I suggest that the Labour party should subscribe to the league—rather than knocking it—and find out about the militants and the people who disrupt its ranks in such places as Liverpool, London and Birkenhead—of course we know the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has been deselected.

    I shall happily vote against the amendments tabled by the Opposition.

    I am glad to have the opportunity to speak because, some time ago, an anti-blacklisting campaign was formed in the House and it now has a large number of members, including more than 70 Members of Parliament. It is pleasing to note that, in the recent past, the Opposition attacked blacklisting during debates on previous employment legislation and attempted to get the law changed, but they were opposed by the Government. I introduced an anti-blacklisting Bill, which was opposed by the Government. Here we are again tonight, with yet another Employment Bill, taking the opportunity to raise the issue once again and to try to further the democratic standards that we wish to preserve in this country. I am delighted to know that the Labour party has undertaken, in its policy review, to clear up the matter once and for all when Labour forms the next Government.

    I am particularly pleased that the Select Committee on Employment will be investigating blacklisting in the near future.

    The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) questioned whether there was any evidence that blacklisting took place. A member of my union, the Transport and General Workers, and an employee of Ford was blacklisted last year. Ford openly admitted—it has been in all the newspapers—that it subscribes to the Economic League and that it practises blacklisting. That admission comes from a major car manufacturing company.

    The building workers' union, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, is holding its annual conference soon; because it is so aware of the problems of its members in the construction industry, this will be a major topic for debate. According to the hon. Member for Colne Valley, everyone seems to be letting his imagination run riot.

    Before I give way, I wish to cite the example of another building firm. Some of its papers came into my hands recently, and the show that the company blacklisted people who had never worked for it, and it did not do so on grounds of incompetence. I shall present that evidence to the Select Committee.

    The hon. Lady mentioned Ford. Is it not true that the motor car industry in this country has been blighted during the past few decades by industrial disruption? It has had a history of individuals actively disrupting it—for example, Red Robbo and the mole at Cowley. Such individuals have enormous power. In the past they created tremendous problems for companies, and those problems spilled over to other employees. Surely Ford has a responsibility to its shareholders and its employees to ensure that industrial saboteurs are not employed.

    I shall come to the general principles of the issue in a moment, but one of the people the hon. Member for Colne Valley named—the so-called Red Robbo——

    I am answering right now, if the hon. Gentleman wants to listen to me. Red Robbo was sacked for no better reason than that he offered an alternative to the plan offered by the management at the time of a dispute several years ago. Notice how far back the hon. Member has to go to find something that he can begin to describe as subversive activity—which it certainly was not.

    Thousands of people are on the Economic League's blacklist. The league organises in various parts of the country and has local lists. Presumably it has a nationwide list on its computer. No doubt my hon. Friend and I will ask about that when we visit them.

    Do Conservative Members seriously believe that those people are all subversives and revolutionaries? If so, I do not know why the revolution has not already broken out, given the activities of the Government during the past 10 years. Tory Members are talking nonsense. We have been given the evidence of Mr. Richard Brett, who used to be a regional director of the Economic League, and who came to a meeting in the House of Commons organised by the anti-blacklisting campaign. He had fallen out with the league and was prepared to give evidence which will be presented to the Select Committee in due course. He said that, for the vast majority of the huge number of names in the records, the information recorded was inaccurate.

    People are listed, they are prevented from getting jobs, but the information on them is not correct. How does that come about? It is due to the league's methods of blacklisting people. It picks up names and addresses from a wide range of left-wing and ultra left-wing newspapers, and other such sources, noting the names of people who are nominated for posts. However, if a senior official of that organisation is prepared to admit publicly that the records are inaccurate, the public have reason to worry.

    Sometimes the league has got it right, and has listed someone accurately, but the information is irrelevant. For example, one of my constituents was on the "World in Action" list for no better reason than that she was an organiser for the anti-apartheid campaign. Most people would think that if she put that on a job application an employer might think that it was to her credit—I certainly would. I cannot imagine what employer could object, except perhaps the South African embassy or companies such as Outspan. It is not of interest to industry in general. Those are reasons for putting people on the blacklist.

    Even if someone considers himself or herself a revolutionary and a danger to capitalism, Opposition Members realise—although Conservative Members do not—that many such people take themselves more seriously than their activities justify. We have a police force, special branch, MI5 and MI6 and if people are attempting to subvert the interests of the country it is their job to attend to such matters—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) points out, we know that some secret services have taken a strange view of what is and what is not a subversive activity. A former leader of the Conservative party referred to the fact that some of MI6's activities were very strange and that it had odd notions of what constituted subversive activities.

    The forces of the state are there to look after the interests of the state. When it comes to employers looking after their own interests, do not Conservative Members of Parliament realise that ordinary, hard-working, decent trade unionists do not want their job prospects to be wrecked and industry to be ruined by people who fancy themselves as some kind of latter-day Lenin? Trade unionists can tackle attempts to make something out of nothing. Ordinary trade unionists are the ones who have suffered the most from such activities. A shop steward who is trying to do a decent job for his members can come to the attention of an organisation such as the Economic League and be blacklisted as a revolutionary or a subversive.

    8.30 pm

    I have already referred to the fact that people can be invited to blacklist themselves. We have heard that the Economic League is prepared to allow us to examine its records. It believes that it would be a good idea if the law required both computer records and general records to come under the Data Protection Act 1984. Why, therefore, do the Government resist our arguments? I called precisely for such a measure two years ago when I introduced my Bill—that all the records of blacklisting agencies should be open to inspection and that people who had applied for a job and had been checked by a would-be employer should be able to find out what information was held on them. At long last we hear that the Government are prepared to allow that. I can only imagine that it is because they have come under pressure as a result of investigative journalism.

    Apart from the Economic League, other organisations have blacklists. They prevent people from gaining employment for reasons wholly unconnected with their ability to do the job. They can be blacklisted for their beliefs, or for their suspected beliefs, or even because of the beliefs of their relatives or friends. They can be blacklisted on the basis of false information. People are tried secretly by unknown individuals who act as prosecutor, judge and jury. They have no opportunity to challenge and correct the false information, unless they choose to write and virtually blacklist themselves. If they had not come to the attention of a blacklisting agency before, they would certainly do so then.

    It has been called McCarthyism. I have seen a letter from a man who says that it is worse than McCarthyism, for at least McCarthy was prepared to stand up in front of Congress and the Senate and justify his actions. These people are not prepared to justify their actions. All they do is to talk nonsense about secret revolutions breaking out everywhere in Britain. I hope that the House will throw out this nonsense.

    The Bill claims to give people the right to belong to a trade union. It did so belatedly. We heard a great deal about the right not to belong to a trade union. It was only towards the end of the gestation period that we heard anything about the right to belong to a trade union. It is a new right. Under our law, there has never been the right to belong to a trade union.

    Since 1926, a printing firm, D. C. Thomson in Dundee, has operated the policy that anybody who wants to be employed by that firm must sign what is called "the document", stating that they are not a member of a trade union. If the right to belong to a trade union is to mean something, we have to ask how that right is to be enforced. If there is no mechanism to enforce the right to belong to a trade union, it will be a completely meaningless sham.

    We have heard a great deal about the pre-entry closed shop and how dreadful it is. I do not intend to say a great deal about the Economic League. The Select Committee on Employment has launched an inquiry into recruitment practices. The Economic League is to give evidence to the Committee and I do not wish to prejudge what it will say. A number of other organisations are described as blacklisting organisations. They are engaged in pre-entry discrimination. Discrimination takes place before someone gets a job. It is not a question of an employee not being allowed to join a union; the discrimination takes place before a person even gets the job.

    Blacklisting organisations provide the so-called information in secrecy and furtively to firms that then illegally—or what will be illegally—refuse employment. The purpose of a blacklisting organisation is to supply information secretly; then the firm will do something that will be illegal—it will refuse employment and break the law.

    What does the Minister intend to do about it? If the Bill gives the right to employees to belong to a trade union but there is pre-entry discrimination, what will the Minister do if firms break the law? That would be wrong, repugnant, mischievous and evil. It must be combated, if we are serious about giving people the right to belong to a trade union.

    We must be even-handed. The right to belong to a trade union has to be protected. People must also be given the right to be active in trade unions. It is all very well to give people the right to belong to trade unions, but what happens if they are active trade union members? An active trade union member may find that he is on a blacklist and that therefore he cannot find employment, so it does not seem to me that the right to belong to a trade union has any real meaning. I understand that in Committee my hon. Friends tabled an amendment that would have covered that possibility, but it was rejected by the Government. An explanation is needed.

    We know, from all sorts of evidence, that some of these blacklisting organisations are shady and incompetent. We also know that many firms use them. The organisations are secret and furtive, and operate on the fringes of the law. We listened to the apologist or spokesperson for one of these organisations, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). Perhaps he will take back the message that, if such organisations were more open, there would not be so much objection to them.

    Parliament has considered the matter before. In our modern society, a vast amount of information is available on all of us. According to the Data Protection Act, Parliament has said that we should be able to check what is on the record, but some organisations manage to find furtive ways to circumvent the law. They say that they have manual files. If they were more open about their activities, there might not be the same objection to them. I hope that the Minister will tell us what he thinks about that.

    If blacklists deny employment, the so-called right to belong to a union is a sham. In a free society it cannot be right for people to be shut out of employment by the use of secret information. We criticise the secret police and the Securitate in eastern Europe because they kept blacklists and files on people and used informants. I have heard that some of the blacklisting organisations here infiltrate agents into anti-apartheid organisations and trade unions and compile information, rather like the Ceausescu secret police. If those organisations can deny people employment, that must be wrong, and if people being denied a livelihood cannot challenge that secret information, that must be a denial of natural justice.

    I want to know what the Government intend to do about it. If they claim that they will give the right to belong to a trade union, perhaps we shall hear that in future it will be unlawful to keep and supply secret, inaccurate and incompetent information to firms which will then operate pre-entry discrimination. Perhaps the Minister will promise to ensure that they are brought under the Data Protection Act and that everything they do will have to be out in the open and that their lists will be published so that not only the employer but the individual—the Conservative party has often said that it has the interest of the individual at heart, and what could be more important to the individual than the denial of his livelihood?—will have access to it. Unless that is done, the so-called right to belong will be a sham. That is the litmus test of whether the Government will be even-handed and give the right to belong as well as the right not to belong. Unless something is done about it, that right will be an empty sham.

    I hope that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) will reflect on his speech. If he looks back through history he will find that one of the great parliamentarians from his constituency was a man called Victor Grayson who is well remembered throughout the valley that the hon. Gentleman now represents in the House of Commons.

    Victor Grayson was destroyed by the blacklist. That is how the British establishment dealt with that gentleman all those years ago. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know more about Victor Grayson, he need do no more than read the book about him written by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He will learn much about the operation of those organisations that he has sought to defend in the Chamber tonight.

    I shall certainly take up the offer that the hon. Gentleman made and go to meet those people, but I say to them in advance that we shall want many questions answered. We will want to know all kinds of information about their organisation which hitherto they have been totally unwilling to provide to journalists that have made contact with them. We shall want them to justify why they question people who apply for information about themselves, and why people are charged the princely sum of £10 to secure access to the personal information kept about them.

    We shall also want to know how they can morally justify the compiling of information such as one would expect to find only in parts of eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. In those countries and in other parts of the world the systems are being dismantled, and it is incongruous that we should allow such operations here in the United Kingdom.

    The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has something of a reputation for instigating bogus smears on hon. Members. I recall the way in which he tried to smear my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates). I should point out that the portion of the letter that I read out specifically said that the Economic League would be happy for an all-party delegation to visit its premises. That was a sensible caveat to ensure that hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman do not go on their own and abuse the hospitality of the Economic League. The most effective body of people to carry out such an investigation would be the Select Committee on Employment.

    8.45 pm

    I am perfectly prepared to accept the caveat that the hon. Gentleman introduced. If I and my hon. Friends have any difficulty in gaining access, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be willing to accompany us to ensure that the delegation has an all-party complexion.

    I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) who, since her election to the House, has done so much in these matters. Her name stands out on the Labour Whip each week, drawing attention to meetings that she is convening. I know that she has played a prominent and important part in uncovering the activities of that organisation and drawing them to the attention of hon. Members and people throughout the country. I should also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), who made his maiden spech from the Dispatch Box this evening.

    Finally, I turn to a particular issue—who should be blacklisted, if anyone? I want to draw attention to an incident at the Devonshire dockyard in Barrow in Furness in Cumbria. I was approached by a person within the county of Cumbria who drew my attention to the security arrangements in that dock. I should point out that the Devonshire dock is where they are to build the Trident submarine, one of Britain's most secure projects in terms of defence contracts. It demands the highest level of security. It is so secure and officially secret that Parliament cannot be officially informed even of the date of commissioning of the first Trident boat, so we are dealing with a highly sensitive subject.

    When I asked the Secretary of State whether the Trident project was being carried out at the Devonshire dock in Barrow I received the reply: "Yes." Then I asked about security. The Minister replied:
    "Security at the Devonshire dock is the responsibility of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited and is being maintained at a level appropriate to the nature of the work undertaken and the perceived threat."
    I asked about the screening arrangements for people working in the dock and the security clearance for those already working there and received the reply:
    "It is not the policy of this or previous Administrations to release information on security clearance procedures."—[Official Report, 14 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 826.]
    Clearly they are extremely sensitive matters. One assumes that the level of security at the dock is extremely high.

    One of the main contractors in the dock just happens to be a subscriber to the Economic League, a firm called McAlpine, one of Britain's premier construction companies. The firm was recently carrying out work not in the main construction hall but within the dock area in the immediate vicinity of the main construction hall. When McAlpine is short of labour, and needs a specialist skill for a few days, it uses a local labour contractor to employ persons who have to have security clearance to come to the dock and do the work. I understand that on a number of occasions McAlpine has used a firm called Nicholas Labour Hire Ltd. of Preston. The potential employees on the books of that company need security clearance.

    I have with me a form which shows that Nicholas Labour Hire Ltd. of Winckley square, Preston, told a person who was to work in the dock area—this relates to a particular occasion but I understand that it has happened on a number of occasions—and who had to clear security, that because of delays with security clearance, he should impersonate an employee of Nicholas Labour Hire Limited, a Mr. Mike Power. Mr. Power is the office manager of Nicholas Labour Hire Limited and I understand that he has security clearance for the dockyard.

    Obviously, the contractor, McAlpine, will want to deny knowledge of these matters, as no doubt will Vickers shipyard security officials; they will say that they know nothing about these matters. Nicholas Labour Hire will probably want to blame everyone else, although it is party to this impersonation and deception which is breaching security in a dockyard in the United Kingdom in which the highest level of security manufacturing activity is taking place, aside perhaps from Sellafield and the Aldermaston complex in the south of England.

    I want an inquiry to be conducted into this case. How is it that such large companies, one of which at least we know subscribes to the Economic League, can be party to a system by which people are required to impersonate others and breach security to gain access to their place of employment?

    I want to know why firms such as McAlpine are willing to subscribe to organisations such as the Economic League as part of the exercise of blacklisting individuals who seek employment, while they themselves are engaged indirectly in breaching security by, if not condoning them certainly not finding out about and preventing, abuses of security on the scale that I have divulged to the House tonight.

    I understand that in the dockyard in Barrow there is an inner security area. It was put to me that it would be impossible for people to breach that area, even though they might gain access, by way of security passes, to the main dock area. But I am told by other people in the dock that it possible to move from one security area even into the tighter security area.

    The hon. Gentleman may say that it is irrelevant. I believe that people in the construction industry—be they McAlpine, Nicholas Labour Hire Ltd. of Preston or Vickers of Barrow—who condone this sort of activity present a far greater threat to national security than ever some trade unionist did who perhaps happened to say the wrong word at the wrong place at a certain time, thereby doing irreparable damage to himself and his prospects of employment for the rest of his life, or perhaps someone who belonged to CND, who attended a rally and whose presence was picked up on a video camera by some crummy official in some organisation that believes it has a right to monitor the activities of people.

    We have our priorities wrong. I hope that when the inquiry that I have requested takes place—as it inevitably must take place, since a breach of security has occurred; I have the documentary evidence with me, for I hold in my hand the form that was requested and was filled in requiring a man to impersonate another man—it will prove who really threatens security in this country. I hope that it will address the real issues that confront us.

    Despite some of the remarks that have been made, this is one of those debates in which there is probably more agreement than might at first seem to be the case. At the outset, from the Government Bench, I welcome the hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) to the Opposition Front Bench. He will have found that a great benefit of speaking from that position is that at long last one has something on which to rest one's notes. Speaking for myself, one hardship of being a Back Bencher, having left the court room, is having to leave one's lectern behind. The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is nice to have a lectern again.

    The hon. Gentleman came to the heart of the matter—his concern about the Economic League—but the clause and the amendments to it deal with a fundamental point in the Bill, and one which attracts acceptance from hon. Members in all parts of the House. I refer to the proposition that, when it comes to recruitment, the fact of trade union membership should be irrelevant. It must be said that that is not the position under the law as it stands, and that a change is to take place in that respect.

    The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) was concerned that our conversion to the even-handed approach, if I may so put it, came somewhat late in the day, but that is not so. The Green Paper dealt specifically with the pre-entry closed shop, but once the proposals in the Green Paper were being taken forward and worked into a Bill, one saw all the implications and became aware of how to put the policy into practice. The hon. Gentleman will see that an even-handed approach has been adopted on the face of the Bill, as it should be.

    I am interested in the pre-entry aspect. If the Minister wishes to be even-handed, does he agree about the other side of the coin? There is pre-entry discrimination by blacklisting organisations if secret, furtive information is given by them to firms which, after the Bill becomes law, illegally discriminate against people who have previously been active in trade unions, and the individual cannot challenge the information. Does the Minister agree that that would be a breach of natural justice? That is pre-entry discrimination for being a trade union member. Does the Minister accept that?

    I will come to that issue in more detail later in my remarks. I accept that we are here in the business of introducing a new criterion that employers will not be entitled to take into account when deciding whether or not to employ somebody. I refer to the fact of trade union membership. Be it the presence or absence of such membership, employers will not be entitled to take that into account. Whatever else we may disagree on, that is accepted by Members on both sides.

    The hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan said that in Committee we had presented the case on the basis that activities and membership were one and the same thing, but I would not put that construction on it. We made the point that we were dealing essentially with the status of a person, be he a member of a trade union or not, rather than with his activities.

    It is equally clear that the mere fact of membership carries with it certain incidental activities which are implicit. That matter was decided by the court as recently as this year, in Discount Tobacco and Confectionery Limited v. Armitage. If one reads that case in conjunction with the older case of Drew v. St. Edmondsbury borough council, it is clear that, although there may be the normal incidence of trade union activity, the organisation of industrial action would not form part of it. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was fair in keeping his remarks about that as short as he could, but he perhaps condensed matters rather more than I would have done.

    The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan also felt that the Economic League had been defended by Ministers. Let me make it clear that, speaking for myself and for my right hon. arid hon. Friends, we never come to the Front Bench to defend the Economic League. It is for the Economic League to defend itself. If it is indulging in any illegal activity, that should be drawn to the attention of the relevant authorities. To say that I or my right hon. or hon. Friends would defend the work of the Economic League would be preposterous. The matter rests on particular knowledge. If any hon. Member has knowledge that the Economic League has acted illegally, that should be drawn to the attention of the police.

    Our point, which does not seem to be getting through, is that this secret McCarthyism should be made illegal.

    9 pm

    I understand the hon. Lady's objections and I promise that I will come to them.

    The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan was fair in the way that he opened up his case. He felt that we were defending the Economic League per se, but we are not. However, I come now to the first point of difference between myself and the Opposition. It is a fair construction to say that they feel that it is undesirable and unfair, and should be made illegal, if an employer decides to use sources of information or tries to find out whether a potential employee has a history of industrial disruption. An employer may want to know whether that person is a well-known subversive.

    I assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) that I shall come to the point about accuracy of information in a moment. She herself hinted that certain people are on the extreme of right and left—a view which is common ground between us. An employer's wanting to know merely whether a person was involved in industrial disruption should not be made illegal, but——

    The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan might have liked to hear my "but", but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

    If an employer knew that someone was going to be disruptive and destructive, he could dismiss him. That employee would then go to an industrial tribunal and might prove his case. However, to have secret information to say that somebody was X, Y or Z when he was not and for that person to be unable to challenge that false information is a different matter.

    This will be common ground between us. Yes, if the employer took somebody on and then found one week, two weeks or two years later that the person had a track record for industrial disruption, he could dismiss him. If the person had been employed for the qualifying period, the industrial tribunal could deal with the matter. However, it makes sense from an employer's point of view not to have to dismiss someone in those circumstances. It might make more sense to find out whether the person has a history of industrial disruption—before taking him on.

    Does the Minister accept that, for many employers, what he has just described would apply to a person who wanted to be employed by a firm and who was an active trade unionist who wished to recruit others who might not be in a union? In the eyes of many employers, that is a form of industrial subversion. Yet I believe that the practices in which I engaged were perfectly legitimate and right in a democratic society. If people did not want to be persuaded by me to join a trade union, so be it, but why should I or anyone else be prevented from joining a firm because I am an active trade unionist?

    The hon. Gentleman amplifies the point that he made earlier. It may assist the House if I come to that point in due course.

    I was making the point that trying to find out not whether someone had been engaged in trade union activities or was a member of a trade union, but whether he had been indulging in something a great deal worse, is obviously a matter in which an employer might take a legitimate interest.

    From what I have read in the newspapers about the Economic League, it is clear that some organisations which employ trade unionists have used that organisation. The mere fact that an employer goes to an organisation to find out whether someone has been guilty of industrial disruption should not automatically be made illegal.

    The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made several allegations of malpractices about which he knew. I hope that he will accept that those allegations are more the province of the Home Office than of the Department of Employment. He came to the crucial point when he said that, under the next Labour Government, he would seek certain changes in the law. I can give the hon. Gentleman some comfort now rather than leaving him to wait until his extreme old age. That change in the law is very much enshrined in clause 1.

    Today, if an employer approached the Economic League or any other organisation and found that a person was indulging in trade union activities which were incidental to membership, he would be entitled to take that into account. After enactment of the Bill, however, that will no longer be the case—employers will no longer be able to obtain such information. I do not know whether that assurance is sufficient to make the hon. Gentleman cross the Floor, or vote Conservative, or both, but the change in the law that he expected to come in the clays of his grey-haired old age is already being made.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) also mentioned the Economic League, of which he clearly has some knowledge. He has corresponded with its members, given the House information, and made a certain offer. Again, I do not think that it is for me to pass comment, except to say—this leads me to the main point made by the hon. Member for Maryhill—that any information supplied by such organisations should obviously be accurate. I say that for a number of reasons, one of which may not appeal particularly to Opposition Members. If the organisation providing the information identifies the wrong John Smith, to pick a name at random, thus blackguarding the right John Smith, that will not do the organisation itself any good.

    My hon. Friend suggested that people could write asking whether they were on the Economic League's list. If they were sufficiently left or right-wing, they might add, "PS—If not, why not?" The hon. Member for Maryhill and several of her hon. Friends asked, "What about the Data Protection Act?" Although I am sure that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley were as accurate as he could make them, I could not say whether the Economic League favours an extension of the Act to cover manually held records. All that I can tell the hon. Lady is that whether the Act should be extended is a question for the Home Office rather than for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, although I appreciate that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends welcomed the opportunity to return to the subject, which arose in Committee as well.

    The Minister is on to a good point. He will also appreciate the importance of information acquired for recruitment purposes. Does he agree that such information should be covered by the Data Protection Act, and will he take steps to ensure that it is? That might deal with the anxiety felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    I cannot take a view on legislation that has not been introduced by a Department which, were it to do so, would in any case not be the Department in which I serve. The data protection issue is plainly dear to the hearts of Opposition Members, and they will doubtless wish to pursue it, but they cannot pursue it with the Department of Employment.

    What is the Minister offering the House? How does he intend to ensure that only accurate information is kept, without requiring the aggrieved individual to pay £10?

    And I will give the hon. Gentleman a simple answer, although he may not find it satisfactory. It is not the business of the clause, or of the Bill, to devise a structure to ensure that the information given out by organisations is accurate. What the clause does—this should be said again, as it represents common ground—is ensure that it will no longer be regarded as legal for a potential employer to refuse a person employment on the ground of trade union membership.

    I have given the hon. Gentleman my answer to his question. I warned him that he might not find it satisfactory.

    The hon. Member for Newham, North-East asked about the sanctions. The details are set out in schedule 1. The tribunal can make an order, or a declaration, about the steps that should be taken to remedy the problem, and compensation can then be awarded.

    The hon. Gentleman also said that he wanted the information to be made public. That takes us back to the point about accuracy. I am not sure how far the hon. Gentleman would want to take the matter—he might not wish all the information to be made public on each and every occasion—but I accept the arguments about the accuracy of the information.

    Before I outline the concession that I intend to offer, I Will deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who asked whether anyone should ever be blacklisted. That is an interesting question, but it seems to me that there is some agreement among hon. Members on both sides that there are some things that employers ought to be able to take into account, and the intention to cause deliberate industrial disruption might be one of them. The Bill deals with trade union membership, which employers will no longer be able to take into account.

    Grouped with new clause 2 is amendment No. 21, which would add to a list of criteria set out in the Bill for deciding what would amount to a refusal of employment. It is clearly right that we should be clear about what constitutes refusal of employment. The list is set out in clause 1(5), and the amendment proposes that an extra ground should be offered. The amendment refers to an employer who
    "offers, and then subsequently withdraws, the offer of employment without giving a satisfactory explanation for the withdrawal of the offer of employment."
    The second part of that proposal would not assist Opposition Members in achieving their aim, because the subsection is intended to help us to determine whether there has been a refusal of employment. That matter should not be prejudged—it should be left to a tribunal. I cannot say whether the exact words in the amendment are satisfactory, as I have not yet had time to seek the view of parliamentary counsel, but the Government accept the principle behind it and we are prepared to bring forward a proposal to reflect that in the other place.

    I was about to come to the points that the hon. Gentleman made. The hon. Gentleman made a number of allegations about firms—McAlpine, Nicholas Labour Hire, Vickers, and others. He made the allegations in his own inimitable way. It is not for me to pass judgment on whether those allegations are right, and the hon. Gentleman needs no lectures from me about how to bring such matters to the attention of the relevant authorities. Clearly, he feels that he has started that process today.

    I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the principle of amendment No. 21, which stands in my name. I should explain that I did not participate in the debate merely because of pressure of time and because other hon. Members wished to speak.

    On that thoroughly uncontentious note, I conclude my remarks by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his perspicacity in realising that an extra paragraph should have been included.

    We look with considerable interest to see what the Government propose by way of a concession to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans), and we welcome the fact that they are prepared to make such a concession.

    It is disingenuous of the Government to argue that they are doing members of trade unions an amazing favour by making it unlawful to refuse to employ someone because he is a trade union member. The Government do not accept the logic of the case by offering equivalent protection to someone who is active in his or her trade union. It is ludicrous to afford protection to those who are members but not to someone who has taken an active part in his or her union even at a very low level. It will be ridiculous if employers are allowed to use that loophole and continue to refuse to employ on that basis. I must make our strong objections clear. The Government seem to be trying to have it both ways.

    I strongly disagree with the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), and he would not expect me to say otherwise. My hon. Friends have made good speeches explaining our reasons for that.

    It is not good enough for the Minister to tell us piously that he thinks that it is important that such secret organisations provide accurate information. Of course, if they provide information, that information should be accurate, but in reality it is not. It is neither accurate nor acceptable. The very fact that it is gathered in such a covert sinister way means that nobody—neither employer nor employee—should have any confidence in the activities of such listing organisations. They have no place in British industry.

    The Government should accept our fairly minimal view of how blacklists should operate in our society. I must make it clear that, in the event of the Government not accepting our proposals, a Labour Government will bring in legislation to that effect. We are committed to that. It is a great shame that the Government do not recognise that they have the same kind of moral obligation if they really have the interests of both sides of industry at heart.

    For those reasons, we shall seek to divide the House on new clause 2.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 178.

    Division No. 215]

    [9.15 pm


    Abbott, Ms DianeBuckley, George J.
    Allen, GrahamCaborn, Richard
    Anderson, DonaldCampbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
    Armstrong, HilaryCampbell-Savours, D. N.
    Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCarlile, Alex (Mont'g)
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Clay, Bob
    Battle, JohnCohen, Harry
    Beckett, MargaretCook, Robin (Livingston)
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyCorbett, Robin
    Bermingham, GeraldCryer, Bob
    Bidwell, SydneyCummings, John
    Blair, TonyCunliffe, Lawrence
    Boateng, PaulDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
    Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Dixon, Don
    Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Eadie, Alexander
    Buchan, NormanEastham, Ken

    Evans, John (St Helens N)Martlew, Eric
    Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Maxton, John
    Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Meale, Alan
    Fisher, MarkMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
    Flannery, MartinMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
    Foster, DerekMoonie, Dr Lewis
    Foulkes, GeorgeMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Fyfe, MariaMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Galloway, GeorgeMowlam, Marjorie
    Garrett, John (Norwich South)Murphy, Paul
    Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Nellist, Dave
    Golding, Mrs LlinOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Graham, ThomasO'Brien, William
    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)O'Neill, Martin
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Pike, Peter L.
    Grocott, BrucePowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Harman, Ms HarrietPrimarolo, Dawn
    Haynes, FrankQuin, Ms Joyce
    Henderson, DougRedmond, Martin
    Hinchliffe, DavidReid, Dr John
    Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Richardson, Jo
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Robertson, George
    Home Robertson, JohnRobinson, Geoffrey
    Howells, GeraintRogers, Allan
    Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Ruddock, Joan
    Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Sheerman, Barry
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    Illsley, EricShort, Clare
    Ingram, AdamSkinner, Dennis
    Janner, GrevilleSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSnape, Peter
    Leighton, RonSoley, Clive
    Lewis, TerryTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Turner, Dennis
    McAllion, JohnWallace, James
    McAvoy, ThomasWalley, Joan
    McCrea, Rev WilliamWardell, Gareth (Gower)
    McFall, JohnWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
    McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
    McKelvey, WilliamWinnick, David
    McLeish, HenryWorthington, Tony
    McWilliam, JohnWray, Jimmy
    Madden, MaxYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Mahon, Mrs Alice
    Marek, Dr John

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Marshall, David (Shettleston)

    Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie and Mr. Frank Cook.

    Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)


    Aitken, JonathanCarlisle, John, (Luton N)
    Alexander, RichardCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCarrington, Matthew
    Amos, AlanCarttiss, Michael
    Arbuthnot, JamesChannon, Rt Hon Paul
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Chapman, Sydney
    Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Chope, Christopher
    Atkins, RobertClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
    Atkinson, DavidConway, Derek
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Curry, David
    Baldry, TonyDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Bellingham, HenryDavis, David (Boothferry)
    Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Day, Stephen
    Benyon, W.Dickens, Geoffrey
    Bevan, David GilroyDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterDover, Den
    Body, Sir RichardDunn, Bob
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasDurant, Tony
    Boswell, TimEggar, Tim
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Evennett, David
    Bowis, JohnField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardFishburn, John Dudley
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinForman, Nigel
    Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFranks, Cecil
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Freeman, Roger
    Browne, John (Winchester)Gardiner, George
    Budgen, NicholasGarel-Jones, Tristan
    Burns, SimonGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
    Butler, ChrisGoodhart, Sir Philip

    Goodlad, AlastairMorris, M (N'hampton S)
    Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMorrison, Sir Charles
    Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Moss, Malcolm
    Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Neubert, Michael
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
    Ground, PatrickNicholls, Patrick
    Hague, WilliamNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
    Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Norris, Steve
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
    Hanley, JeremyOppenheim, Phillip
    Hannam, JohnPatnick, Irvine
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Harris, DavidPorter, David (Waveney)
    Hawkins, ChristopherPortillo, Michael
    Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyPowell, William (Corby)
    Hayward, RobertRaffan, Keith
    Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
    Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRedwood, John
    Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Renton, Rt Hon Tim
    Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyRhodes James, Robert
    Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Riddick, Graham
    Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
    Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
    Hunter, AndrewRost, Peter
    Irvine, MichaelRowe, Andrew
    Jack, MichaelRyder, Richard
    Jackson, RobertSackville, Hon Tom
    Janman, TimSainsbury, Hon Tim
    Jessel, TobyShaw, David (Dover)
    Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Key, RobertShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Kilfedder, JamesShelton, Sir William
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
    Kirkhope, TimothyShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
    Knapman, RogerSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Knowles, MichaelSoames, Hon Nicholas
    Knox, DavidSpeed, Keith
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkStanbrook, Ivor
    Lightbown, DavidSteen, Anthony
    Lilley, PeterStevens, Lewis
    Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Lord, MichaelStokes, Sir John
    Macfarlane, Sir NeilStradling Thomas, Sir John
    Maclean, DavidSumberg, David
    Madel, DavidTaylor, John M (Solihull)
    Malins, HumfreyThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
    Mans, KeithThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Thurnham, Peter
    Maude, Hon FrancisTracey, Richard
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianWalker, Bill (T'side North)
    Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickWatts, John
    Mellor, DavidWiddecombe, Ann
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyWiggin, Jerry
    Miller, Sir HalWood, Timothy
    Mills, IainYeo, Tim
    Miscampbell, NormanYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
    Moate, Roger

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Monro, Sir Hector

    Mr. Greg Knight and Mr Michael Fallon.

    Montgomery, Sir Fergus

    Question accordingly negatived.