Beckett courts union support: Call for fresh look at industrial laws

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The Independent Online
MARGARET BECKETT yesterday called for a 'fresh start' on trade union rights, allowing a return to secondary picketing.

Her remarks may strengthen her support in the Labour leadership election race among the trade unions, but they opened Labour to attack by senior Cabinet ministers for attempting to turn back the clock on Tory industrial relations legislation.

Labour Party sources sought to play down the threat of changes. Mrs Beckett, one of the three Labour leadership candidates, said on BBC Radio: 'There could well be a need just to sweep the board clear and start again.' She said many unions wanted to retain the requirement for ballots before strikes, but some of the Tory curbs on secondary picketing would go.

'We need to have legislation which allows a sensible, workable and fair approach to secondary picketing so that people are not treated in the way they sometimes have been in the past, without any regard for reasonable industrial rights which would be enjoyed anywhere else in Europe.'

Labour sources said she was not going further than existing party policy of replacing the trade union laws of the 1980s with a framework of trade union rights, which the other candidates, Tony Blair, and John Prescott, supported.

David Hunt, Secretary of State for Employment, said: 'After days of dodging, Margaret Beckett has admitted Labour would just say 'yes' to whatever the trade union bosses decided they want.'

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor; Michael Howard, Home Secretary; and John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, targeted Tony Blair for attack, underlining Tory fear of him. Mr Clarke said: 'He looks a reasonable and sensible man . . . but what Tony Blair really stands for . . . is nothing more than repackaging of the failed socialist policies that have let this country down so badly in the past,' Mr Clarke said.

Roy Hattersley, the former Labour deputy leader, underpinned his support for Mr Blair by ruling out any suggestion of pacts with the Liberal Democrats.

He told a seminar in London that as Labour's strength grew, calls for co-operation with the Liberal Democrats would intensify from Liberal Democrats who feared the European results showed the terminal decline in their party.