§ 10.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that all application forms for membership of a trade union shall specifically refer to the right of the applicant not to pay a political levy to the union; and for purposes connected therewithThis Bill does not seek to stop payment of a political levy although, so far as I am aware, Britain is the only industrial nation in the free world which carries on what I regard as a foolish practice. It does not even seek to compel contracting in as opposed to contracting out. It is merely a modest, small but important reform, designed to ensure that people joining trade unions, usually both compulsorily and in their own interests, clearly understand where the dues that they pay go to.
In the vast majority of cases trade union members are not even aware that they are paying a political levy. As the law stands, union rules concerning a political fund have to be approved by 2 the Registrar. The rules can be obtained by a member if he asks for them, but he will usually find that they run into over a hundred pages of not particularly attractive prose, and in some cases the union rules say that a form of exemption notice… shall be published in such a manner, whether in the union's journal or report or otherwise, as notices are usually given by the union or its branches to its members, and the secretary of each branch will take steps to secure that every member of the branch, so far as practicable receives a copy of such notice …or some similar wording.
In practice the initiative is always left to the individual who usually experiences considerable difficulty in obtaining copies of the contracting-out form. He is rather like the traveller on the railways who sees on his ticket the words "For conditions see reverse", and on the reverse he finds that it says that the conditions can be obtained from the railway office. If he goes there he finds that the clerk has gone to lunch, and by the time the clerk returns the train has gone.
Relatively few of the unions maintaining political funds make mention of the political levy on their application forms. The forms include details of the dues payable, but in many cases the amount stated as contribution includes the political levy. Practice varies in different cases. The National Union of Mine-workers makes the point perfectly clear. The T.G.W.U., the N.U.G.M.W., the E.T.U. and D.A.T.A. among others make 3 no reference to the political levy and a new applicant, if he thinks about it at all, does not know whether it is included in the contribution. If it were made a statutory obligation upon unions to incorporate the contracting-out form in the application in the first instance and to draw attention to the applicant's rights, he would at least know where he stood.
The modern trend in society is towards protecting people by greater and more accurate disclosure. There is the Hire Purchase Act, 1964, the Misrepresentation Act, and the labelling of food and drink legislation. In addition there is the work of the Consumer Council, and now we have the Companies Bill wending its way through Committee. This is a thoroughly desirable trend, but the question is posed: why should the Labour Party be immune from it? If trade union membership is so inextricably entwined with the Labour Party, and if trade unionists are so consumed with love and affection for the Labour Government, then they will have no need to be afraid to call attention to the right to contract out, because applicants will joyously disregard the warning. If, on the other hand, the Government and the trade unions fear that if this right were known more generally it would be more often exercised, this is a pretty poor reflection on the confidence of the Government in our industrial workers—indeed on the confidence of industrial workers in the Government. The truth is that more and more trade unionists are becoming thoroughly disillusioned with the Labour Government and their economic policy of stagnation. Particularly are they disillusioned with the notorious Prices and Incomes Act, which strikes at the funda- 4 mental trade union principles of free bargaining and the sanctity of contract. More and more would contract out if the right to do so was not so wrapped in a miasma of obscurity.
The only conceivable argument which I believe can be advanced against the Bill is to suggest that it be left until the Royal Commission has reported, whenever that may be. But precedent is against this argument, because the Government did not allow this to worry them when they brought in the notorious Trade Disputes Act, 1965, which made fundamental and direct changes in the law and granted trade unions an entirely fresh privilege over their fellow members.
Frankness and honesty of purpose are qualities much vaunted by hon. Members opposite and by many of us. Therefore, I submit that they should practise what they preach and give support to the proposed Bill, which seeks to throw a little light on one of the rather more murky corners of our industrial and political life.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Grant, Sir E. Brown, Mr. Iremonger, Mr. David Mitchell, and Mr. John Page.