§ [Nos. 2 and 22]
§ Clause 45, page 36, line 29, leave out ("religious belief") and insert ("conscience")
§ The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:—
§ Because the Clause, as amended, would lead to too much uncertainty in union membership agreements.
§ Lord JACQUES
My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 21 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 22. The effect of the Amendment was to provide that employers may not compel a person to belong to a union if he objects, on grounds of conscience rather than religion, to belonging to any union. This Amendment and variations of it have been discussed on a number of occasions relating both to this Bill and to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. It has now been accepted by both Houses that the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, in dealing with dismissal for non-membership of a union in a closed shop, should make a statutory exception only for the person who objects to union membership on the grounds of religious belief. Clearly it would be wrong to make a different provision in this Bill in respect of actions which are short of dismissal.
The House will not expect me to repeal the arguments in detail. They hinge on the uncertainty of how conscience may be interpreted by different individuals, employers, employees and, eventually, 885 trade unions. I would remind the House again that the tribunals have had great difficulty in the context of union membership agreements in differentiating between conscience and religion. In the case of Heinz v. Spiller French the Industrial Court held:In our opinion grounds of conscience necessarily points to and involves religious belief or conviction based on religion in the broadest sense as contrasted with personal feeling however strongly held.We ask that your Lordships do not insist upon this Amendment, first, because it would be inconsistent with a decision already made on the Amendment Bill, and, secondly, because it would create uncertainty both for employers and employees and for tribunals.
§ Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 21 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 22. —[Lord Jacques.]
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, there is a considerable difference between religious feelings and feelings of conscience. As a trade unionist, I will give way on this one with the greatest of reluctance. Conscience is quite distinct from religion. If one of my friends in the Transport and General Workers' Union, on conscience basis, decides that he does not want to belong, he has a perfect right. He does not have to declare a religion. I am horrified by the base on which the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, puts this issue forward. I suspect that he has already organised it with the Opposition so that they are not going to oppose. I wish to speak out for quite a lot of people who simply say: "I don't need to prove a religious objection. I just conscientiously don't want to belong."
Without developing the point at great length, thereby messing up the business this afternoon, I should like to think there are many noble Lords here who would agree with me in saying that it should be acceptable for a fellow to say, conscientiously: "Don't probe me too closely as to how I get my conscience, but conscientiously I do not want to belong to that union." We have just seen a situation between APEX and ASTMAS and some others. Most of us on this side of the House grew up as objectors. One did not have to prove a Jewish religion, a Christian religion, or any other 886 religion; we were just objectors. What we mostly objected to were the fellows who were running the show.
I find it hard to accept the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. I will resist simply because men who object should not have to prove a religion. As in the war, one could be a conscientious objector because one did not happen to believe. One just does not happen to believe in Jack Jones. Ernest Bevin was much nearer my liking. If you want conscientiously to object, you should be able to. I should like some of my noble colleagues and friends to go into the Lobby with me against acceptance of the Commons Amendment.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I would first assure the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, that there has been no collusion or co-operation by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, from this side of the House. Nevertheless, I must welcome what Lord George-Brown has said and go a long way with his statements. Much has been said on this item and I will not repeat the arguments; but there was a certain matter of substance which my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham raised in Committee and which should be elaborated slightly. I recall the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Session of Parliament, at which the Government claimed to protect, promote and respect observance of human rights. A long time has passed since those words were spoken and they seem to have been forgotten. I would therefore draw attention to the relevant provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which refer to this particular situation of somebody who does not wish to join a trade union. Article XX, Clause 2, states:No one may be compelled to belong to an association.Article XXIII states:Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment.These words are surely clear in their meaning.
I know it was said by one noble Lord (I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Pannell): "I am afraid that the Declaration of Human Rights has no significance on the factory floor." He may well be right, but surely these people on the factory floor would be the first to demand their rights. I would also draw attention 887 to the European Social Charter, which in 1965 a Labour Government ratified, and in which the Government undertook:… with a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to work, to protect effectively the right of the worker to earn his living in an occupation freely entered upon.I should like to know how the clause as it stands is in conformity with that undertaking by a Labour Government in 1965.
I would further draw attention to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article VI, again ratified by a Labour Government, which states:The States party to the present Covenant recognise the right to work which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right".These words, again, are clear and perhaps noble Lords opposite should be reminded that this Covenant is very soon to come into force as already 35 Member-States of the United Nations have ratified it. And perhaps noble Lords opposite should be reminded that the denial of the right to exercise conscience is a step in the direction of tyranny. It must be said that denying acceptance of this basic Amendment—which many noble Lords in this House have supported—denies the right of a British Labour Government to claim to be the protector of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of this country.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I agree with almost everything that the noble Baroness has just said, but this is a very late hour at which to be debating this matter afresh. My noble friend Lord George-Brown could not have been present earlier or have read the Official Report, otherwise he would have known that many of us expressed his point of view in earlier debates. I believe that inclusion in this Bill of the words "religious belief" is an affront to those of us who have deep conscientious convictions which are not based on religion.
For this Amendment to be inserted by a crowd of agnostics in another place, I believe to be quite an outrageous thing to be done. There it is. They apparently insist that the only identification of con 888 science for this purpose must be based upon religion. When there was conscientious objection against war service, we did not say that it had to be religious objection; we said that it had to be conscientious objection. Conscientious objection—the depth of it and the length of time that people had had it—could, if necessary, be investigated by a tribunal. One realises that with the possibility of industrial disputes on one's hands and with the right of appeal to a tribunal there are many difficulties in the way of settling these matters in time so as to avoid disruption of production.
The remarks of my noble friend Lord Pannell in an earlier debate have been seriously misrepresented. If I may say so on his behalf, he was not associating himself with the belief that conscientious objection had short shrift on the factory floor; he was stating what in many cases is a fact. Declarations of human rights, which have been subscribed to by most of the nations of the world, including Soviet Russia, appear to be only scraps of paper. When it comes to the crunch, the problem always is to insist upon human rights and to get others to support them when vested interest does not want to concede them. This is the situation with which we are faced today.
I have explained on many previous occasions that I come from a family of conscientious dissenters—dissension that is not based upon religion—and I am saying another word in support of that position. Therefore, I deeply object to the inclusion of religion as the only basis for conscientious objection.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, may I comment upon the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. When she speaks about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a Declaration which includes countries that condone slavery and have no human rights at all—and compares it with a country like ours in the West, a highly sophisticated country with a long history of democratic government, and uses this very simplistic way of applying the Universal Declaration, she knows perfectly well that this is absolute nonsense.
§ Lord DOUGLASS of CLEVELAND
My Lords, I have listened to the noble Baroness pleading passionately for human rights. As I did so my mind went back to my boyhood days. When I started work my wages were reduced arbitrarily by the manager from 2s. 9d. to 2s. 6d. a shift. We went on strike, but nobody bothered about us. We walked the streets for weeks. Wages at that time were not what they are now. We went along to the local trade union official who, with the power of the union behind him, said to the manager, "You have no right to reduce the wages of these boys without negotiation." All of us—about 20 at that time—joined the union. Within three months only two of us were paying our subscription to that union; the remaining 18 had obtained that trade union benefit for nothing. Something of that kind is remembered by boys as time goes by and they insist that people who obtain benefits should pay what is necessary to obtain them.
Those who sit on the Benches opposite have fought the trade unions for half a century. They have fought safety measures inside industry. We have had to fight them in order to pass legislation to obtain damages when employers have been neglectful. We have obtained those damages for men who have joined trade unions. We have also made it obligatory that men should obtain damages, whether or not they are in trade unions. If, however, they are not in trade unions they do not obtain legal benefit and very often they lose damages because they do not know how to deal with employers who will not be fair to their employees.
If we take the question of pollution, at one time the practice was to throw filth into the streets. It took Acts of Parliament and the payment of rates to stop that offence. If a man objects on conscientious, religious or other grounds to being prevented from throwing his filth into the streets and to paying the rates for refuse collection, do we say to him, "You don't need to pay your rates because you have a conscientious objection to paying them on that ground"? If we decide that we are to help people who are unfortunate enough to be unemployed and that we are not going to allow people to be unemployed without providing them with 890 some assistance and a man says, "I have an objection to paying taxes to assist somebody while he is not working," do we allow him to object to paying those taxes and not to pay them?
Where does the Bill of Rights end and where does it begin? If you are employed as a coalminer and you have to fight the employers, as one had to fight them at one time and as one has to fight them even now for decent wages, and you obtain decent wages and a man then says, "I have a conscientious objection to paying the trade union who obtained those wages for me," do you say to that man, "Do you have a conscientious objection to taking wages which have been negotiated as a consequence of paying those contributions"? I could go on for a long time in this vein because I have long experience of these matters. Let us not confuse the Bill of Rights with the determination that people who obtain benefits should carry the responsibility for those benefits.
If I may turn to religion, this country has a long-standing respect for people with religous views. Whether or not we agree with their religion does not matter. Many people of foreign religions are coming into this country. They have strange habits and strange customs. We accept all of them because of this country's practice of religious tolerance. Because we practise religious tolerance let us not confuse it with something called "conscience." I am not denigrating the Salvation Army because I have a great respect for them, but at a time when wage negotiations were being conducted a man belonging to the Salvation Army said, "I object to paying my contribution". The trade union official said, "I will accept your objection if you will accept that you should not receive the benefits that we are negotiating for you now. Let us get this on to a sensible basis". Immediately that man paid his contribution. In other words, he was using religion as a cloak. If we allow Parliament to use religion as a cloak because we tolerate all religions it will be a bad day for us. Let us talk no more nonsense about this Bill of Rights.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, this matter has been debated frequently in your Lordships' House and in another place. One can inject the issue of human 891 rights and ignore the various interpretations. Even the term "conscience" is capable of various interpretations. The issue before your Lordships' House is a simple one, whether or not your Lordships like it. It has been referred to on a previous occasion not only by me but by other Members of your Lordships' House; namely, are we going to resist the decision of another place. My noble friend Lord George-Brown made a speech which had certain overtones of moral value: so much so that I thought he might have introduced it from the Bench below him.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, perhaps he will come to that in due course. That is not the issue. If he sought in his speech, however eloquent, however persuasive it was, to provoke Members on the other side of your Lordships' House to resist the decision of the other place, he had better save his breath to cool his porridge. I tried it myself: it was a complete failure, despite my accepted eloquence and persuasion!
The fact is that we are dealing with a simple political issue. Despite the minimal majority of the Government in another place, despite the fact that they have been elected by only a minority of the electors in the United Kingdom, despite all the other facts that have been referred to repeatedly, Members of your Lordships' House on the Opposition Benches are not ready for the fray. It is as simple as that. Why waste time? We have heard some remarkable speeches from the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, my noble friend Lord Douglass of Cleveland and others. They are wasting their time.
We have heard from my noble friend—I can call him a friend sometimes—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, of whose views of moral value, as I have said before, I approve, if not wholeheartedly, to a remarkable extent—and I mean what I say. I think we should have more of those speeches, more of the content of those speeches and be more ready to accept what those speeches mean. But he has just agreed with me that we are dealing with a pragmatic issue; we are not going to fight the other 892 side—the people at the end of the corridor, those common people! Of course we are not; we are not ready for the fray and I suggest to my noble friend Lord George-Brown that he had better "try it on" on some other occasion, when it is likely to be more fruitful.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, it is amazing how often reasonable men say outrageous things. We had an example of this a minute or two ago. The noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, who always sounds so reasonable and looks so dignified, said some really outrageous things when he suggested that the safety efforts and all the improvements in industry have come from one side and that this side of the House had in fact resisted them. I do not think that is a true explanation of what took place in those days, and I do not think it is helpful to have said it—it is not in keeping with the noble Lord. I think it is right that the record should be put straight as to how some Members of this House judge history.
The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, is not able to speak again, and I suggest what he wanted to say was that it was not the case that he came today and made his points at the last minute. My recollection is that he made the same case—which is a good one, of which I heartily approve—in the earlier discussions in the passage of the Bill through the House. If it comes to a vote I shall support the point of view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown; but whether or not it is wise to do that is a matter that we have to judge.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)
My Lords, perhaps I may just remind your Lordships that only last week we were considering this very issue to which we have given a great deal of thought on all sides. On that occasion your Lordships' House decided—not just as a matter of being wise or, I think, from weakness—that it would be right to accept the view of another place. I am all for debate if there is a point to be debated, but it seems to me that today there are no grounds for being inconsistent, doing one thing one week and completely the opposite the following week, despite what feelings exist. There are most important issues which this House wishes to debate, 893 and I wonder whether we should deal with this matter and then move to the next Amendment.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.