§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
On this Vote this afternoon it is desired to raise the question of the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General in refusing over a prolonged period to grant recognition to a trades union known as the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association. Although I dislike as much as any hon. Member does the large number of initials with which our public affairs are decorated in these days, I would ask through you, Sir Charles, the permission of the Committee to use instead of the somewhat lengthy title of this union the initials E.O.T.A. throughout my observations on the subject. I can back that request with what I am sure all hon. Members will agree is the compelling argument that if permission is granted my speech will be that much shorter.
I do not propose in discussing this subject, to enter into any general discussions on trade unionism or upon what are sometimes described as"splinter unions" I do not think that on this particular issue, to which at any rate I intend to direct my observations this afternoon, those general questions arise at all, but in so far as the opinion of any hon. Member is of relevance to it my general view 648 is that the less of what one might describe as nuclear fission that takes place in trade unionism or, indeed, in anything else the better.
What I want to deal with is the more precise question of the administration by the right hon. Gentleman and to some extent by his predecessor in office of the rules governing recognition of staff associations inside the Post Office. The proposition which I desire to put before the Committee is that with respect to this matter the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor have been less than fair. I think I can start with two propositions which will, I hope, command the unanimous assent of the Committee.
The first one is that where the State is an employer—in the case of the Post Office we are dealing with the biggest concern in this country in which the State is the direct employer—it is right that we should insist upon the most meticulous standards of fairness in dealing with staff and seek to set an example to private individuals, and that it is the responsibility of this House to ensure that Ministers of whatever political colour who sit on the Government Front Bench treat their staffs with meticulous fairness and with complete disregard for political or other, in these respects, improper considerations. The second proposition, which I hope will also meet the assent of the House, is that it is no business of an employer which particular trade union his staff elect to join. That view was, if I recall it correctly, very fairly put not long ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in connection with a certain foreign bank.
Coming to the immediate facts of this case, I do not anticipate that there will be very much dispute between the two sides of the Committee. The E.O.T.A. is a craft union concerned solely with the organisation of the technician grade in the Post Office. As hon. Members who are familiar with this question will know, the technician grade comprises skilled men and in this case they are concerned with the installation and maintenance of telecommunications systems. That grade of the Post Office has a total establishment slightly in excess of 11,000, and I understand that at this moment the membership of the Association concerned is between 5,000 and 6,000.
649 The other union concerned in the organisation of that grade is the Post Office Engineering Union, equally a highly reputable and respectable body which, I wish to make clear that at the outset, I do not criticise in any way. It is legitimately concerned, as are all unions, to preserve its interests and those of its members, and I have no criticism to make of it with respect to this matter. The criticism I desire to make is directed to the Postmaster-General.
A substantial number of technicians have decided that they are better represented by E.O.T.A., which is concerned solely with the technician grade, than by the Post Office Engineering Union, which is concerned with a wider variety of grades in the Post Office. I shall not contend aye or no whether they are wise so to do. That is not a matter upon which it is wise or necessary to express an opinion. All I am prepared to argue is that they are entitled so to do, whether they be wise or not, are entitled to join such union as they think fit, and that if sufficient of them desire so to do—and this is an old problem in the trade union movement—they should then be entitled to recognition.
I am not here to say that every small group in any industry, because they do not like the established union, are entitled for that reason to recognition. There must be a balance in the matter. There must be clear and comprehensible rules. All I am concerned to argue is that when sufficient men in a grade decide that they wish to join one union rather than another, they are entitled to recognition. The question then arises, what is sufficient? Fortunately, perhaps, for the clarity of this Debate, that matter has been thoroughly and lucidly dealt with in a publication of His Majesty's Treasury as recently as last year entitled,"Staff Relations in the Civil Service". It there sets out a rule which is the rule throughout the Civil Service as a whole, though it expressly mentions the position of the Post Office. In paragraph 13 at page 4 there occur these words:To secure recognition an association must show that it is representative of the category of staff concerned. In the Civil Service recognition depends solely on numerical strength. The Postmaster-General has recently announced that the Post Office will consider a request for recognition if the association making the request can show that it has in membership at least 40 per cent. of the organised 650 staff of the grade or grades concerned; that where an association warrants recognition by the Post Office, this will be granted for an initial period of 3 years; that at the end of that period, or at any time subsequently, the question of withdrawing recognition will arise if the membership falls below 33⅓ per cent. of the organised staff of the grade; and that the question of restoring recognition once withdrawn will not be considered till the lapse of 3 years from the date of withdrawal.The only other passage I need quote is the subsequent paragraph 14, which begins with the important words:As membership figures alone determine recognition…That is the rule stated as recently as last year in a document issued by His Majesty's Treasury, and its reference to the Post Office is based on what is called the Listowel formula, so called because it was propounded by the noble Lord who was predecessor but two of the right hon. Gentleman. This doctrine is expounded in somewhat similar terms in a letter sent by the Post Office on 30th December, 1946, and as they are substantially the same as those in the Treasury document, I shall not weary the Committee with them.
As I understand that formula, it amounts to this: not that an absolute and indefeasible right to secure recognition is given to any association reaching 40 per cent., but that the size of membership and the percentage of membership is the sole test of recognition, and that when 40 per cent. is included, the general presumption is that recognition shall be given unless some clear and compelling reason to the contrary arises.
That view of those words is fortified by the fact that, so far as I know, certainly in recent years, throughout the Civil Service no organisation which has attained the 40 per cent. has been denied recognition until the case arose with which the Committee is concerned this afternoon. In fact the rule has been applied in the case of other comparatively small and specialist associations. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was applied some years ago to the National Guild of Telephonists and, so far as the Civil Service is concerned, it has been applied within the last 12 months to a small union inside the Customs, the Customs and Excise Association. Therefore the effect of the rule is pretty clear.
If I may come briefly to the facts of this matter, on 25th April last year the 651 original claim for recognition was put in by these people. It was no doubt by coincidence that just at that time the Post Office, for some unascertainable reason, decided to tighten up the rules against unrecognised staff associations. That was done by circular C.68/49 dated 3rd May, 1949, and among other difficulties which it imposed upon unrecognised staff associations there is included an instruction that when such staff associations make representation they are not to be given a reasoned reply. Further rather petty restrictions were imposed such as forbidding them to put notices on boards in Post Offices.
On 14th July, a check of the Associations membership figures showed a membership of 4,263 which, although it would amount to 40 per cent. if the grade were organised only to the extent of 90 per cent., did not amount at that time to 40 per cent. of the total, and as there is no dispute that the grade is a highly organised one, and as the formula applies to organised workers, not total staff, it was not unreasonable that at that stage the application should be rejected.
What is important is the letter in which that application was rejected, of which I must read out some passages. It is dated 27th August, 1949, from the Personnel Department of the Post Office and addressed to the General Secretary, E.O.T.A.:With reference to your letter of the 3rd August, and earlier correspondence about your Association's claim for recognition in respect of the technical officer grade, I am directed to inform you that the checks which have recently been made of the membership claims of your association and of the Post Office Engineering Union disclose that the grade is very highly organised. On the evidence available, it has not been established that the membership claimed by your Association represents as much as the 40 per cent. of the organised staff of the grade which is necessary before recognition can be considered.The letter goes on to say:In view of the substantial membership of your Association it is, however, proposed to reconsider at the end of the year the question of granting your Association joint recognition with the Post Office Engineering Union in respect of the technical officer grade. This review will be made on the basis of membership figures to the 31st December, 1949, and you will perhaps be good enough to forward as soon as possible after that date a statement of the membership claimed by your Association at that date in the technical officer grade. This arrangement is proposed on the assumption that 652 in the meantime there is no change in regard to the principle on which the grade is used as a base for considering claims by staff associations to official recognition.With reference to those concluding words, whatever view hon. Members may take, the Postmaster-General has in fact told the House, as he did two months ago, that no change has taken place. It therefore appears perfectly clear that the Association were being informed in August that their claim was being rejected on the grounds that they had not reached the 40 per cent. and that, in view of their substantial membership, it would be reconsidered on the basis of their figures at the end of the year.
That was the position at that stage, but on 8th October a further claim for recognition was submitted on the grounds that the Association had by then obtained 40 per cent. of the total workers in the grade and therefore, beyond any dispute, must have at least 40 per cent. of the organised workers. That claim was submitted on 8th October, and as nothing happened about it a Parliamentary Question was asked of the then Postmaster-General on 2nd November. The Postmaster-General announced that:I am at present reviewing the basis on which recognition by the Post Office should be given to new staff associations and pending a conclusion of that review I regret I am not in a position to take a decision on the present claim."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 389.]In reply to a supplementary question, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was not disputing the figures. I ask the present Postmaster-General to note particularly that answer.
On 14th December a written answer was given by the Assistant Postmaster-General, who I am glad to see has retained his office and is now present on the Front Bench, in which he stated, in answer to a Question of mine:The second part of the hon. Member's Question refers, I presume, to the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association. Their claim to recognition will be further considered by my right hon. Friend in the light of all the relevant factors, including the extent of their membership. On this latter point, as my right hon. Friend has previously indicated a check is to be made of the figures for 31st December, 1949."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 265-6.]I ask the Committee to note that, not only has that check never been made, but that despite the failure of the right hon. 653 Gentleman to make that check he thought fit at a later stage—although I understand he does not now do so—to challenge the figures. He did so in this House in reply to a Question on 29th March, after he had assumed his present office.
The matter then comes down to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made on 17th May, in which at long last he made an announcement in connection with this matter, which his predecessor many months before had said he was considering. I do not propose to read the whole of the statement, which is lengthy. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has it in his possession and can invite the attention of the Committee to any part which he deems material and to which I do not refer, but I should like to read one paragraph:Questions of recognition in the Post Office are not, in my judgment, suitable for settlement by reference to any automatic formula. Each case must be considered individually, and in any arrangement which may be made it will be one of my principal objectives to ensure that the interests of the staff are safeguarded.In reply to a supplementary question, the right hon. Gentleman said:No, Sir, I have not changed any rule."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May. 1950; Vol. 475, c. 1193–4.]My own view is that the right hon. Gentleman has changed the rule. He has changed the rule from the basis of recognition being numerical, as stated in the Treasury document, to a position in which he has complete discretion to grant recognition whether or not the association concerned has attained any particular figure of numerical strength. If he has not changed the rule, why did he make inquiries, before introducing this, of many of the associations concerned whether or not there was any objection to the changing of the rule?
But whether the right hon. Gentleman has changed the rule or not, it seems to me that on his handling of this matter he is subject to this criticism: either he held up recognition of an association which, it is now really beyond dispute on the figures, had a claim for recognition as long ago at least as 8th October, in view of the fact that he was going to change the rules, but not only did not change the rules, but did not grant recognition either; or alternatively—and it is for the right hon. Gentleman to select which of these alternatives he prefers—while refusing recognition to an association which was 654 entitled to it on the basis of the then rules, the right hon. Gentleman changed the rules in order that he should not give it. It is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide which of these alternatives he decides is more consistent with the high traditions of his office.
The question inevitably arises, why was this done? There are one or two matters which may assist the Committee in forming its view and I should like first to refer to certain observations made by the hon. Member who now represents Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) whom, in accordance with custom, I have notified of my intention to refer to this matter, and who was, as hon. Members are aware, for a good many years General Secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union. Indeed, he has made so deep an imprint upon that organisation that those who receive communications from it can still decipher his name on its notepaper, deleted by a thin penstroke. The hon. Gentleman in the last Parliament represented one of the Blackburn constituencies and, what is more immediately material to this issue, held the appointment of Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade.
The hon. Gentleman was, therefore, a Minister of the Crown, and it was while he was a Minister of the Crown that he attended the annual conference of the Post Office Engineering Union last June. He made there a speech, for the accuracy of which I rely upon the journal published by the Union, which, I am certain, is therefore a perfectly accurate record. In the course of his speech, the hon. Gentleman said this:As you know, I receive E.C. reports—I assume that that means the executive committee—I do not pretend that I read every individual case but I do read all the important documents that come to me, and believe me I share your anxieties and your worries perhaps even more than I would do were I still able to be active about them. Occasionally I am unhappy through the fact that all I can do has to be done informally, but the E.C. know, and I would like you to know, that on every occasion that I have been able to do anything informally by discussion with my colleagues in the Government, the P.M.G., the Chancellor, the Financial Secretary and so on, on matters like the wage claim, superannuation, even recognition of E.O.T.A., I have always done so. I shall continue to do so as long as any members of the E.C. and the officers of the Union think I can be of any help.655 So far as I know, it is an innovation in our constitutional procedure for an hon. Member who has the honour of serving as a member of His Majesty's Government to intervene with a Ministerial colleague on behalf of an outside organisation with which he was previously connected in a matter in which that colleague has to deal as between one organisation and another. I would be very glad, if there are precedents for this sort of action, if the Committee could be reminded of them. [An HON. MEMBER:"There are more than one."] It seems to me that the knowledge that this sort of thing has been going on throws an interesting and revealing light upon the otherwise inexplicable facts which I have recounted.
The matter does not stop there, and there are two other quotations which I should like to read to the Committee. One is a report of a deputation to the late Postmaster-General which appears in"The post," the journal of the Union of Post Office Workers, with reference to a deputation which the right hon. Gentleman received from that Union on 29th September, 1949. According to this journal of the Union, one of the two purposes for which the right hon. Gentleman was asked to receive that deputation wasThe modification of the Department's present policy on the recognition of staff associations.The then Postmaster-General's reply to the discussion is reported in these words:The Post Office procedure regarding recognition of staff associations was tied up with policy followed by other Government Departments and he might find it necessary to consult those Departments about the matter. If it was decided to make any change that he would have to make any change, he would have to make sure he was carrying them with him, or he might be creating difficulties for them. He felt bound to mention that the present basis of recognition had been in operation a long time and if it were changed now when a new association was meeting with some success he might be accused of a breach of faith.I very rarely agree with the late Postmaster-General, but that concluding sentence carries my heartfelt agreement. The final speech was by the present Postmaster-General addressing the U.P.W. Conference a few weeks ago. I do not propose to trouble the Committee with all his Celtic eloquence, but I will quote one passage: 656But, in the House of Commons in the last fortnight there has been discussed a question about which you are most seriously and deeply concerned. I gave a decision on a recognition question in the House of Commons which has met with a great deal of hostility and also a great deal of approbation. I am not going to offer rewards to dissident elements.That particular phrase does not seem to me to indicate the almost judicial state of mind in which a right hon. Gentleman responsible for the employment of large numbers of people should approach these delicate questions of trade union recognition. Nor in a case where, for the first time for many years, a union which has received the requisite percentage has been denied recognition does it indicate that that matter has been approached in the right spirit, and for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to any section of those whom, on behalf of this House and of the Crown, he employs, as"dissident elements," seems wholly unworthy of the traditions of his office.
Those are the facts of the matter and I only desire to make one brief comment. I understand, not least from sources close to the right hon. Gentleman, that some discussions, which may have some bearing on this matter, are to be undertaken, or may indeed have started. I do not know what those proposals are, although, if the right hon. Gentleman cares to inform the Committee of them, I can assure him we shall listen with every attention.
But where the right hon. Gentleman has denied recognition to an association which was entitled to it under his existing rules, the proper way to start the discussion of a new system in an atmosphere of goodwill is, first, to grant that recognition, which ought never to have been withheld, and then to proceed from that basis to discuss the matter as between equals. Unless the right hon. Gentleman can say he accepts the principle of giving recognition to those who, under the old rules, are entitled to it, it seems to me that any consultative body or other organisation he may see fit to set up will be founded fundamentally and in the first place on injustice and prove to be an inefficient and ineffective way of doing what he wants.
I put this to the right hon. Gentleman. He made a reply to a supplementary question of mine a little time ago in which he said that if the principle, to which I 657 have referred again this afternoon, were applied, he would be met by the demand for recognition by 500 unions. I do not know how seriously he meant that and how seriously he thought 500 unions could get 40 per cent. of the organised workers in the grades of the Post Office. But the fact remains that at this moment he is faced with one union and one only.
The essence of the point I am putting to him is that if he is satisfied that his position will be impossible under the present law he is, of course, perfectly entitled to come to the House and change it. But, if he does change it, he ought to give to those who, under the old law, are entitled to recognition, that recognition to which they were then entitled. He is faced with the claim of not 500 unions, but one union, and he is not coming to the House and telling the House that with all the administrative resources of the Post Office the task would be impossible if he recognised one more union.
Against the background of the events which the House were discussing yesterday, the matter we are discussing this afternoon is, perhaps, not a very great matter against the tumultuous background of our time, but I am not at all sure that it is not of greater importance than merely the conflicting interests of two trade unions. I believe that if any State or community when dealing with its employees departs from absolute fairness, that spreads throughout the community as a whole and in the long run may do as much damage to the community as the external dangers which are in our minds today.
I therefore put this forward as something bigger than the fair treatment of 5,000 men, a matter involving the honour of a great Department of State for which, not only the right hon. Gentleman, but hon. Members of this Committee, are ultimately responsible to the Crown and people. I beg of the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that he can gain nothing but esteem, nothing but repute, by administering his rules fairly, even if he is for other reasons not well disposed to those against whom he has so far administered them. It is the duty of this House to insist that Departments of State treat their staff, in words which all hon. Members know so well,without fear, or favour, affection, or ill will.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I am fortunate to catch your eye, Sir, and I count it rather a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and also to deal with a great many things he has not mentioned.
We are often indebted to the hon. Member for the skill with which he deals with technical matters, but his limitations have never been more apparent than they were this afternoon. How he could make a speech of this kind without ever asking whether this breakaway was justified in any way, without discussing its origin, without defending the methods that have been used, without a word as to the effect of the breakaway on the efficiency of the Post Office, or the well-being of the staff—how he could do such a thing is beyond belief.
I would not deny that when the hon. Gentleman is putting Questions to the Postmaster-General he is obviously entitled to put them on a narrow field, but this afternoon we are not dealing with Questions from a back bench Member of Parliament; we are dealing with a matter raised, I understand, officially by His Majesty's Opposition. His Majesty's Opposition, whatever a backbench Tory may do, is in no position to avoid dealing with this as a matter of general principle for, if they fail to do so, all the talk we have from them from time to time, on trade union matters becomes quite meaningless.
The hon. Member made it quite plain that he was not going to deal with general matters. He pleaded for meticulous fairness as between members of the staff. I want to plead for the same meticulous fairness to be given by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the legitimate trade union that has held this field ever since the early linesmen's movement at the end of the '80's of the last century.
Before I proceed to develop my theme, may I correct the hon. Member on one point, upon which I think he would accept correction? At the beginning of his speech he talked a good deal about technicians. I think he will agree that he really meant to refer to technical officers.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter indicated assent.659
§ Mr. Edwards
That is all right. But it leaves a completely false impression if we talk about technicians because they are not the people in dispute here. Never once did the hon. Member mention technical officers. He must have been badly briefed or could not read his own writing.
Since the Opposition have raised this matter officially, it seems to me important for us to consider the way in which this breakaway arose and its effect on the work of the Post Office. When I went to the Post Office Engineering Union in 1938, there were then four grades which we represented on the engineering side. There were two grades of killed workmen, 1 and 2, there were labourers and there were youths. It was then quite clear to the Executive of the Union, as it was to me, that that organisation was quite inadequate, because the Post Office had had increasingly to recruit either adults or secondary school lads who, in addition to having a high degree of manual skill, required consider- able theoretical knowledge.
Nobody in this country has campaigned more on behalf of these people who, by comparison with their educational equals, the clerical people, were and still are considerably underpaid. At that stage, 1938–39, the Post Office Engineering Union was engaged in preparatory work for a new grade which would really take account of those circumstances. Then came the war. We debated yesterday the situation in Korea. I could not help remembering those days during the war, when as I am sure the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston) will agree, no one could have wished for greater co-operation than we had between the Union, of which I was General Secretary, and the Post Office, when we were facing the common enemy. I do not need to repeat all the tributes that have been paid to the telephone engineers, who did a magnificent job under the most trying circumstances, and indeed to the Post Office Engineering Union, who played their part in that matter.
It was because of the war that the Union decided that one of the things we had to do was to adopt a policy of wage restraint. At no stage during the war did we present a wage claim for our higher paid people. It was not an easy thing to adopt that policy but we conceived it 660 to be part of our duty at that time. We carried out that policy resolutely and faithfully. Here then was the genesis of the breakaway, because even before the war was over, there were the beginnings of the intrigue which later, as soon as the war was over, produced this body called E.O.T.A. The very first issue of their journal which was then cyclostyled, a copy of which I have here, has an article on its front page headed"Any excuse better than none," and attacks the Post Office Engineering Union for the fact that we had not during the war been presenting wage claims for our higher paid workers.
The hon. Member for Westbury, who I understand will speak later, and who was Assistant Postmaster-General, must, on his side, as I must, on my side, take some responsibility for that. We must also say to E.O.T.A. that the reproach that has been levelled, not only at me and those whom I represented, but at the hon. Member and the people he represented in those war years, is quite unfounded, and that we are indeed entitled to take some credit for that difficult job which we did together in time of war. Had the Union behaved differently in time of war this secession would have been prevented. Had we behaved irresponsibly, had we tried to exploit the war situation to get more money for the people who are now the technical officers, we could have prevented this secession.
This is not a matter which the Opposition can ignore. I invite hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench opposite to consider what they would have thought if, in time of war, there had been a Tory back bencher supporting and helping a body which was creating trouble of this kind? I can imagine the pearls of caustic sarcasm that would have fallen from the lips of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). Yet the Opposition apparently now think that they can have co-operation from the unions, although this type of thing is going on.
I would also ask the Opposition whether they are indifferent to the methods that have been used by this breakaway body? This is not a matter which they can brush aside. Are they indifferent to this kind of gibe? The badge of the Post Office Engineering Union has clasped hands on it. It has been a reproach to the Union 661 and the Post Office that those clasped hands are supposed lo represent the union shaking hands with the Post Office. Yet, in a sense, that was a symbol of the relations which we had in time of war and, I am glad to say, very largely in time of peace. Do the Opposition stand for the kind of thing which I am now about to quote from a branch circular, a letter from the Chairman of the London Regional Committee of E.O.T.A., in August, 1949, in which it is stated:In my view the Department are scared of losing the `cap in hand' men who have for so long salaamed to them.There has indeed been a campaign of calumny and abuse not only against the Union but against officials. So bad was it that in the end, the Union were obliged to take action in the courts. Since then, having had an abject apology and a complete withdrawal, we have not had quite the excesses which we had previously. But do hon. Gentlemen opposite stand for that sort of thing? Is this the way they show their appreciation of the help given so freely and generously during the war? I do not believe for a moment that they do. I am sure that the hon. Member for Westbury would be the first to say that he does not stand for that kind of thing. But unless he speaks out, he and all those with him will continue to be misrepresented throughout the country.
Representatives of this Association go around saying,"We have this Member of Parliament who advises us on these issues,""We have the backing of a Member of Parliament." Yet, so far, the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who has certainly helped this body very considerably, has never spoken a single word against this criticism and abuse, even of decent civil servants, who are not able to speak up for themselves.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to say that I am not concerned, as I was not in my speech, with the things which, as he knows perfectly well, have been said by each of these rival bodies against the other? The last thing I want to do is to exacerbate feeling either way. Surely what is far more important from the public point of view is that the body concerned, be it a good one or a bad one, should have justice from a public Department?
§ Mr. Edwards
It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that that is not 662 the point. He cannot avoid the fact that it is the point. If he and his Friends do not"come clean" on this matter they will be misrepresented—
§ Mr. Edwards
—by the members of the very organisation which they have been helping. In any event, when the hon. Gentleman flings out the allegation that this has been mutual, I deny it. I challenge him to produce the evidence to support such an allegation. In fact, throughout this business, the Post Office Engineering Union has acted with conspicuous restraint, and I am sure that if anyone will take the trouble to read the respective journals and compare them, they will reach that conclusion.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich, South)
I wish to follow the argument of the hon. Member. Do I gather that he is justifying the conduct of the Government by the character of what he described as a"break-away" union? If that were the reason for the action of the Government, ought not the Government in the correspondence to have expressed its disapproval of the union? I would ask this of the hon. Gentleman He talks about the Opposition slipping out but the Government are slipping out if they rely on all these matters that have never been mentioned by them.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. and learned Member is quote wrong. He must wait for my right hon. Friend to deal with those words. What I am concerned with is this. The Opposition cannot this afternoon avoid taking a line on this kind of opinion. If they do try to avoid it they will be misunderstood.
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has left the Chamber. We on this side of the Committee have been particularly interested in the speeches he made before the election about the relations the Conservative Party would like to have with the trade union movement. The spectacle of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames helping, supporting and advising this break-away body is completely at variance with the words we had from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
I may say that this is resented in the Post Office Engineering Union by all our 663 members and resented even more by those of them who are Conservatives than by those who are Socialists—and with more reason. I can think of the secretary of one branch of the union who is the chairman of his local Conservative Association, and who wishes to know how the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames can reconcile this helping of a splinter breakaway body with the speeches made by people like the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby.
Let us be clear on this point. If the hon. Gentleman and those with him had not given their support to this organisation, it would not have made the ground it has made.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I would deal first with the last thing which the hon. Member has said. This body had attained a membership in excess of 4,000 before, so far as I know, a single hon. Member of this House knew anything about its affairs. How does the hon. Member apply the term"splinter union" to a body which has in fact attained a degree of membership which for many years throughout the Civil Services of the Crown has been held to be a sufficiently substantial percentage to entitle it to recognition?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is merely avoiding the issue. Unless the words of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby are to be made to appear hypocritical—which I am sure we do not want to happen—the hon. Gentleman has to define his attitude to an illegitimate trade union movement and stop stirring up trouble in the way he has been doing. In a supplementary question the other day he said, if I understood him aright, that he was not the legal adviser of E.O.T.A. I do not think that bears the construction that he is not an adviser of E.O.T.A. If it does I would ask him to go to E.O.T.A.; to look at the file of their branch circulars; and to talk with the members of that body; and he will find that throughout the country, people are talking of the hon. Member as the adviser of this body. I am not saying that he is, but I am saying that that is what they say. And if he does not take steps to correct it, he must not mind if we misunderstand.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. Gentleman has directed his remarks to 664 me I am grateful that he has given way. The hon. Gentleman has referred to me as the adviser of this body. They have been to me, as they have been to hon. Members on both sides of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to press that matter further, he may find that certain of his own hon. Friends have in fact, to their credit, expressed sympathy with the position of this Association.
§ Mr. Edwards
I myself, since I was re-elected to this House, have received representatives of E.O.T.A. in my capacity as a Member of Parliament. But there is a world of difference between a Member of Parliament receiving his constituents and a Member of Parliament giving advice to a national body. If the hon. Gentleman does not know the difference, at any rate I do. I am sorry to have taken so long over this matter, but I have given way to the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions.
I wish to ask these questions. In what sense was the break-away legitimate? I have shown the occasion of it. In my view, to make it legitimate, we have to show that the people who broke away really tried their best to use the machinery of the union and failed. With one exception, I cannot think of a single person associated with the leadership of this body who ever did anything within the Post Office Engineering Union, or who ever tried to.
It might be said that the union was so organised that these people were not able to express their point of view. That again is quite wrong, because the union is so organised that the internal engineers, people who work on the internal side of the Department, can have their own branches. Even if they do not have their own branches, they can have their own meetings within the branches.
It may be said that there was not proper representation of the technical officer grade on the Executive of the Union. Here again, in fact the representation is quite disproportionate. There are 23 members of the Executive of the Post Office Engineering Union at the present. Twenty of them are engineering officers, of whom 17 are technical officers; that is to say, something like three-quarters of the executive are technical officers although that particular grade is something like 18 per cent. or 19 per cent. of the total staff of the Engineering Department.
665 Therefore I would say that there was no excuse for this break-away and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to tell me why he thinks that such irresponsibility deserves the support of His Majesty's Opposition. I hope he will answer, because it is important, and we are entitled to know where the Conservative Party stands in this important matter.
May I say a word about the grading position? Towards the end of the war, anticipating the peace, and with the full approval of my executive, I was able to start a series of informal discussions with the engineering chiefs, with the approval of the Postmaster-General, into the organisation we should have after the war. Finally, we were able to have formal negotiations, and instead of the two skilled grades we had had previously, skilled workers Class I and skilled workers Class 2, we were able to get agreement to have three grades that now bear the titles of technical officer, technician 1 and technician 2.
That is to say, we began the process of getting the Post Office organisation more in accord with the situation and the needs of the time. The technical officer grade was the grade set on one side for people who not only had to have this technical skill but also a high degree of theoretical knowledge. It was not E.O.T.A. who thought this reorganisation was coming. In fact E.O.T.A., when it was started, said that all they wanted was a new name for the two new grades. But we, in association with the Post Office, effected this new reorganisation and I would invite the hon. Gentleman to note this point because it is important.
It would have been easy for the Post Office Engineering Union, if it had been concerned merely with its own organisation, not to have agreed to the creation of a new grade of this kind; but we preferred to put the well-being of the staff before the organisation. It is a little ironic that, in fact, I negotiated on behalf of my union the very agreement that created a grade which was merely part of a field covered by a secessionist body, and so gave them an opportunity which otherwise they would never have had. Yet I was carrying on—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was right for us to carry on—these war-time 666 discussions into the peace, to help to create a better organisation more fitted for Post Office purposes.
It is well-nigh impossible to separate these grades in any way that would provide a proper medium for representation. We have technical officers, technicians grade I, and technicians grade II. We have a situation where some technicians grade II and technicians grade I can spend 15 per cent. of their time on the work of technical officers. I would defy anybody properly to organise this on the basis of taking technical officers out and disregarding the rest.
We have the strange position where the E.O.T.A. at present will recruit youths under training, technicians grade II and technicians grade I, but only if they are on the internal side. Therefore, they make no claim to try to represent the grade. In the technical officer grade, they seek to represent the whole grade. They have recruited large numbers of people in the technician grades most dishonestly for whom, on their own showing, they could never put forward a valid claim for representation, because they have said that they will not have any external technicians in their organisation.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
The hon. Gentleman is making accusations of dishonesty against the rival organisation to the one he sponsors. Will he deal with the point made by my hon. Friend, namely, that he was using his position inside the Government to try to secure advantage for his own organisation as opposed to the one he is now attacking?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sorry that intervention was made. People in the last Parliament know perfectly well that I am not the kind of person to burke such a personal issue. I have been given due notice of that point, and I will deal with it. I do not mind giving way to hon. Members if they want to raise points on what I am saying, but I beg the hon. Gentleman not to suggest for one minute that I am the kind of person who would run away from an attack.
Before I deal with the personal point, there is a matter which is of some consequence. We must consider the effect of recognition of this break-away body on the constructive and co-operative relation- 667 ships in the Post Office. On the engineering side the relationship is very good. We have joint production committees, and so on, at work. It would be almost impossible for that kind of relationship to be maintained if we had a situation where the break-away body had been granted recognition.
The break-away body would never be accepted in the Whitley system, as the National Whitley Council for the Civil Service and the two departmental sections in the Post Office have shown. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. H. Wallace) can speak with greater knowledge than I can about the disastrous effect on the relationships that we had in the past with that queer body called the Extra-Whitley Council. At present when the needs of the Post Office cannot properly be met by new capital, because it is so limited, they necessarily must devote attention to the more effective use of manpower. We must do everything we can not to undermine in any way the co-operative relationships which exist between the two sides.
Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain something which he has said? He gave the impression, certainly to me, that he was arguing that it was impossible to have representatives of more than one union on any joint production committee. That is not my experience and I do not think that it is the experience of any other union member or any other employer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will correct that statement.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood. I did not say anything of the kind. However, I will say that while I do not agree with the views of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General about the desirability of one union in the Post Office—
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)
I do not know from where my hon. Friend gets that idea. He did not get it from me. I have never said that.
§ Mr. Edwards
I apologise to my right hon. Friend. It is most undesirable to have two organisations representing the same grade. If hon. Members think that I am wrong, I quote in aid some words of Lord Wolmer when he was at the Post 668 Office. In January, 1926, he received representatives of the break-away body called the Guild. He said:The class of skilled workmen numbered about 20,000 and the Post Office had to negotiate agreements covering the wages and conditions of service of the class. The Guild represented numerically only a very small fraction of the class and, if recognition were given to them, other sections also would claim separate representation and future negotiation might have to be carried on with a number of separate bodies instead of with a single union. Such a state of affairs must lead to great inconvenience, overlapping and delay, as past experience has shown.I only say in a different way precisely what Lord Wolmer said in 1926. I do not believe that anyone who has been in office at the Post Office would seek to deny that it would be a great embarrassment and would cause all kinds of trouble if 'in fact we had two bodies purporting to speak for the same grade. I assure the Committee that there is nothing political about this matter. I do not purport to speak for the U.P.W., which is in a different position, but the Post Office Engineering Union has no political fund and is not affiliated to the Labour Party. It decided by ballot not to have a political fund.
Therefore, anything that the hon. Gentleman said about E.O.T.A. in this connection cannot really be given any credence. The Post Office Engineering Union has large numbers of people in it—from my personal, political point of view, too many—who support hon. Gentlemen opposite. As I have already said, those members of the union are even more resentful of the operations of the hon. Gentleman than those members of the union who support the Labour Party. The hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that some words I used at the annual conference of the Post Office Engineering Union last year constituted something in the nature of an intrigue behind closed doors about the recognition of E.O.T.A. It is strange that the hon. Gentleman should have waited for 13 months before drawing the attention of the Committee to a matter with which he must have been familiar for at least 11 months.
But, leaving that point on one side, I think that I am as conscious of what is required of a Member of this House and a Member of His Majesty's Government as is anyone here. I desire, therefore, 669 to make it quite plain that neither the general secretary nor the executive of the Post Office Engineering Union ever asked me at any time to intervene with the Government on this matter of recognition of E.O.T.A. I have received deputations in my constituency, both in my last constituency in Blackburn and in Brighouse and Spenborough, and I have forwarded those representations, as hon. Members must have done commonly, to the appropriate Minister concerned. I always held it to be proper that my experience should be available to any of my colleagues when I was in the Government, if they wanted it, but from the time that this speech was made, until I ceased to be a member of the Government, following the General Election, I neither made any representations to nor did I have any discussions with the Postmaster-General on this matter. I hope the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will take my word for it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That was not the allegation. The hon. Member says that from the time that speech was made until the fall of the Government, he had no such discussions. What concerns me is the discussions which, when he made that speech, he said he had had with the Postmaster-General and which, therefore, in the nature of things, must have taken place before rather than after he made that speech.
§ Mr. Edwards
If the allegations have any substance, they must mean that I brought undue influence to bear at a relative time. At the time when this question of recognition was being considered, I at no time either discussed it with or made representations to the Postmaster-General, who at that time was my colleague in the Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
In the hon. Gentleman's own interests I cannot let that go. He said, in the speech which I have quoted:On every occasion that I have been able to do anything informally by discussion with my colleagues in the Government, the Postmaster-General…. on matters…. even recognition of E.O.T.A….If the question of E.O.T.A. arose only after he had made the speech, can the hon. Gentleman say how he none the less managed to discuss it before the speech was made?
§ Mr. Edwards
As I told the Committee, I have received deputations from my constituents on this matter and at a very early stage I forwarded those representations to and talked about them with the Postmaster-General, but it is an extraordinary doctrine, I must say, if it is being enunciated today that a Tory lawyer can give all the help he can, all the advice he can, use every piece of Parliamentary mechanism to support a breakaway body, while a person who has had a long experience of the legitimate trade union which is involved is not to be permitted to discuss the matter with his colleagues.
§ Mr. P. Thorneyeroft rose—
§ Mr. Edwards
I have given my answer to it. I want to say two other things. The first is that the Postmaster-General has, I gather, seen the representatives of the E.O.T.A. I want to tell him this. It is important that he should be careful in his relations with E.O.T.A. because of the misinterpretations which may be placed on what he says. Already the E.O.T.A. have circulated two sets of rumours. The first is to the effect that the Postmaster-General has said that he proposes to set up a wages council and that he has told the E.O.T.A. they would be allowed one seat on such a council. That is a lie, and I should like the Postmaster-General to confirm that it is a lie.
The second rumour is that the union's wage claim, now before the arbitration tribunal, has been postponed and that the Postmaster-General has promised to have another meeting with the E.O.T.A. when their recognition will be discussed, and that this is likely to have repercussions in the arbitration court. Again, I should like to ask the Postmaster-General to deny that rumour, which emanates from the E.O.T.A., because in fact the arbitration tribunal has had one day's sitting and the case is to be resumed as soon as the tribunal is available to sit again.
Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman clarify that point? He was obviously reading 671 from a statement and was quoting a rumour. Could we have a reference to let us know from where these two accusations or statements come?
§ Mr. Edwards
If it is in the nature of a rumour, I cannot actually give a printed document, but I know that it is a fact that members of the E.O.T.A., according to the information supplied to me, have been circulating these rumours in London. Certainly any hon. Member can go into any telephone exchange in London at the present time and hear those very rumours.
Finally, I would say that the union has behaved with very great restraint about this whole matter. When they have had to consider the re-admission of people who have been in the break-away body, the line has been taken—no fines, no penalties. In 1927 we had a similar break-away body. The breach was healed and many of the people who had served in the break-away body, became good, loyal members of the union. Many of them attained national distinction. I believe this can happen again, but not if there is any suggestion that His Majesty's Opposition are supporting this break-away body.
I want to ask hon. Members opposite, for this is a serious matter, whether they would not consider using their good offices and such influence as they may have with this body to see whether this breach could not be healed. The fragmentation of unions will do no good to the Post Office. It will do nothing but harm to the Post Office engineers. I believe it to be in the interest of all of us that harmony should be restored as soon as possible and that people should be allowed to get on with their real work. Their real work after all, is that of improving the telephone service and improving the conditions of those people who work in the telephone services.
This is far too serious a question to be treated as though it did not really matter, apart from some precise, particular formula or from some careful argument about this or that minutiae concerning recognition. It is a matter concerning the future of staff relationships in the Post Office, and I ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly the hon. Gentleman who is to see whether they can do anything to try to 672 close this gap, to heal the breach, so that all of us can get on with our proper work.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I want this afternoon to seek my share of the indulgence which is always extended to a Member making a maiden speech and as I do not wish to abuse that indulgence or to risk doing so, I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. John Edwards) in a great part of his speech. I do not propose to say anything about the methods which may have been used between these two unions and still less anything about the personal aspects of the matter. If there is any more to be said on those aspects, then it can be said by others of my hon. Friends.
I want to say a few words on the general aspect of this problem which I agree is a serious and important one, and I want to refer to two points which the hon. Member mentioned in his speech. In the first place, on all the facts available I do not agree that we are dealing here with a splinter union, with dissident elements, or with a break-away body. Secondly, I do not agree at all with what the hon. Gentleman said about the impossibility or undesirability of there being in some cases two associations to represent a single grade of employees. That point is dealt with specifically in the Treasury publication which has already been referred to. In paragraph 12 of that publication, after stating that a list of associations is given in the Appendix, it says:It will be seen that in some cases there is joint recognition. This means that no single association is regarded as adequately representative of the group of staff in question to the exclusion of the others in the field, but that two or more associations between them are so regarded. Matters affecting the group are discussed with both or all of the jointly-recognised associations, either jointly or separately, as may be found convenient, and written agreements are signed by both or all.That, then, is the principle recognised by the Treasury—that there may be joint association in cases where it is convenient. I suggest that the question which the Committee has to consider this afternoon is whether this is not precisely one of those cases where there should be joint recognition in this way.
I want to deal with it on purely practical grounds. May I say that I think 673 we do recognise that the Postmaster-General has many problems to face when the question of the recognition of another trade union arises. Of course, there is a large number of unions representing the Post Office staff—I think I have heard it said that there are 35 of them, which is a large number. But the Post Office is a very large organisation, and the number of unions representing the staff is, in itself, a reflection of the vast scale and great diversity of the work which the Post Office conducts. It may be that the Post Office itself is, perhaps, an overgrown institution which ought to be broken down into separate sections, but that is another subject, and I am certain that, even in a maiden speech, I would not be allowed to pursue it very far.
In my own experience in the newspaper industry—with which I have been associated all my life—there are also many trade unions. It is a highly organised industry from the union point of view, as I am sure hon. Members know, and in a single newspaper office—not necessarily a large one, but one perhaps employing 1,000 to 1,500 people—there are as many as 13 or 14 trade unions with which the management has separate agreements. No difficulties arise on that score. The unions themselves have their own federal arrangements by which matters of common interest can be discussed jointly. One would hope—I do not know whether it is the case—that similar arrangements exist in the Post Office, too. There is no question in the newspaper industry of the number of unions being the result of dissident elements or splinter groups. They would not have any chance in that industry.
I suggest that in any industry the question is not whether the unions representing the staff are many or few, or whether they are large or small. The question is whether the unions do adequately and effectively represent the whole of the staff engaged in the industry. One would have thought that on any democratic principle it must be for the staffs themselves to say whether they are adequately represented, and not for the management to determine what organisation they should join.
One knows, of course, that there must be some practical limitation to freedom 674 in this respect, as in others, and that splinter groups or dissident elements are a nuisance from every point of view. But the question is whether we are dealing here with a splinter group, and I want to say one word on that subject. In recent years, the Telecommunications Department of the Post Office has naturally been a very rapidly growing and expanding one, and as it has grown and expanded centrally, there has been a greater differentiation of functions among the people employed in it. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough referred to that point, and other hon. Members no doubt have had a communication from the Post Office Engineering Union on this subject.
In 1946, there were four organised grades—skilled workman, class I; skilled workman, class II; labourer, and youth in training. In that year there was a new agreement, and additional grades were brought in. We then had technician; skilled workman, class I; skilled workman, class II; labourer, and youth in training. In 1948, again, the grades were revised, and for the first time we had"technical officer" coming in at the top, followed by technician class I and II, 2a and 2b, labourer, and youth in training.
I suggest, without claiming any inside knowledge at all of the Telecommunications Department, that that is evidence of a process of development, growth and differentiation which, on the face of it, suggests that it may be highly reasonable to suppose that there is here room and need for another association to represent the technical officer group which has only appeared in the grading in the last few years. Certainly, they think so, and I, in common, 1 have no doubt, with several other hon. Members, have many constituents who are very much concerned about the matter.
It appears to me that this is precisely the kind of case envisaged in the Treasury instruction which I have just quoted. No one on this side of the Committee, I think, any more than on the other side, wants to see the Postmaster-General called upon to recognise splinter groups or dissident elements, or anything of that kind. Everyone with practical experience in this field will sympathise with him in the number of associations with which he already has to deal. But that is the 675 fault of the organisation, and is not necessarily evidence that splinter groups are, in fact, in existence. On the other hand, we do not want to see the Postmaster-General, if I may so put it, sitting on the safety valve and refusing to recognise the natural course of progress and development. Still less do we want to see him denying justice to any important group of people employed in this vast Department.
There is no doubt at all that at present many men in the technical officer grade feel that they are being denied justice, and I think there is some ground for their complaint. They base their claim for recognition on the rules laid down by the Post Office, and they claim that they have conformed to those rules. They received a promise that their claim would be examined. That promise, so far as we know, has not been carried out, and now, in addition, it appears that there is at any rate a suspicion in their minds that there is some intention of altering the rules before their claim is dealt with, and that we are to have another example of retrospective action at their expense. That would not be fair, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman has no such intention.
I venture to suggest that in the circumstances of the present case, which has gone so far and has such a history behind it, the only sensible and reasonable thing to do, whatever rules the right hon. Gentleman may intend to make for the future, is to recognise this association now in accordance with the conditions which have existed in the Post Office during the time that their claim has been outstanding.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Lang (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am very glad that it has fallen to me once again to congratulate an hon. Member upon the successful accomplishment of what is always a considerable ordeal. It does not much matter how long ago it is since some of us underwent that ordeal, we still remember it, and still sympathise with hon. Members who go through it, and we still very sincerely congratulate those who, like the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop), have gone through it so well
. I am thankful, in more ways than one, for the hon. Members intervention because it has cooled down an atmosphere 676 which was getting a little difficult and painful. I think he has rendered a great service in lowering the temperature in that way. I also feel, knowing his important association with the newspaper world and with newsprint, that if the lamentable situation arises in which, once again, we are to have the misery of smaller papers, it will be some satisfaction to think that the hon. Gentleman will be here to make up, by his undoubted eloquence, for the information of which we shall be deprived in the future.
What I have to say on this matter will be very brief, but I am concerned with it, as I am sure a great many hon. Members are concerned. I hold no brief for one union or another, for the parent organisation or its progeny or, if that should be the case, for a breakaway union. Nobody who knows the long history of the building up of the trade union movement in this country would wish to give lightly any kind of support to anything which would tend to depreciate the value of unions, or their bargaining power and unity. That is not the question at the moment. Neither would any of us wish to turn aside from those of our constituents, or anybody else's constituents, who come—as they have a perfect right to come—to Members of Parliament to lay before them their grievances and complaints and have them attended to.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) on his speech, though it was not a maiden speech. We have heard him often at that Box, but very often rather too late at night or early in the morning to enjoy his eloquence. We are glad to have him back, especially to deal with the particular matters that have arisen. All who know him know that he is utterly incapable of doing anything that is in the least bit wrong in these matters.
I should not think it very wrong if the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was an adviser to this body. I see nothing wrong in a Member of Parliament of his experience giving advice to people who want to know how to get about doing something. I have given advice, though not as eloquently as the hon. Member, to people, with a perfect understanding that I did riot necessarily wish to stir anything or 677 propagate anything. Members of Parliamen have a duty besides that of voting and answering letters, and I hope that we shall always feel we have a responsibility in these things.
An official of this union came to see me, because I had already met my constituents who are associated with it. I told them I was prepared to listen to what they had to say and was prepared to do what I could to help them so as to have any grievances—and they thought there were grievances—put right. I hope I am not wrong in this, but I am a wee bit anxious at the way in which it is becoming more difficult for those who have not the good fortune to be in large and highly organised bodies, to have the powerful and eloquent support of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. H. Wallace). Those hon. Members have a splendid record of service to the whole community, for a good trade unionist is an invaluable servant to the whole community and those who make him a good trade unionist are invaluable servants too.
I am concerned with those who have no such voice in this House, and who wait for the recognition they think they ought to have. I hope that the bitter and personal things said this afternoon—I suppose inevitably in the stress of Debate—will be forgotten. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, whom I have known for a very long time and whose career I have watched with interest, proved at the Ministry of Labour in the last Parliament that he possesed a great reserve of ability in administration and great shrewdness and powers of judgment. I am sure that in his well-deserved promotion he has brought those qualities with him.
I have every confidence that the Postmaster-General can find some way of gathering these people together, letting them ventilate thoroughly what they consider to be wrong, and then using his good offices to bring some sort of agreement, or perhaps reconciliation. That is what we all desire. I have spoken because I did not want it to be felt that there is no room in this House for those outside organised unions—and I am outside such unions—to raise a voice on behalf of people whether right or wrong, whether 678 well advised by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames or totally misguided. They certainly persuaded me that they had a sense of grievance.
So long as citizens feel they have a grievance, so long will this Committee, or the House, be a place where those grievances can be ventilated and their case heard. Our duty is to see that there is reasonable fair play. I hold no brief for either side. I do not pretend to know the rights or wrongs of this matter. I know that some very good people feel they have had very bad treatment. The sooner that is put right the better. I rely upon my right hon. Friend to use his good offices, as he can; and I am quite certain that this rather unhappy business, perhaps a wee bit awkwardly handled, will resolve itself in a satisfactory manner.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) said what he did say, and that what he said came from that side rather than this side of the House, because he was saying, much more appropriately, I think, from the Labour benches, one of the things I wished to say in reply to the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards). Before I deal in detail with that speech, perhaps the Committee will allow me to associate myself with the congratulations rightly given to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) upon his successful maiden speech. I think it required something of courage to choose this particular occasion to make a maiden speech. He did so in admirable good taste, and without in any way infringing the tradition or desires of the House in matters of this kind; and he evidently feels himself very much at home in the atmosphere of debate.
I should also like to apologise to the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough if, by any chance I missed the first few sentences of his speech. It was not due to any desire to miss them. Indeed, the more I heard the more sorry I was to have missed what had already passed before I arrived. But it seems to me that one or two things he said require some answer from this side of the House.
He asked us to state the view of His Majesty's Opposition on this question. It seems to me to be utterly wrong that 679 either one party or the other party should have a party position about this particular question. I have, of course, used the various research organisations open to all Members of this House, and those particular ones open to Members of the Opposition, but, as a rule, I do not allow people to make up my mind for me. I approached this problem from the position of how we should do what is right rather than of how I should decide what a Conservative ought to say about this question. I am convinced that this is the attitude of my hon. Friends in the matter. We do happen to intervene in this controversy from time to time, but it would be a great mistake to suggest that an Opposition has or ought to have a party view about this matter.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
The hon. Member will recollect that I was addressing my remarks primarily to the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston) who is sitting on the Front Opposition Bench and, I understand, is likely to speak later. Therefore, I think it is quite in order to ask him as representing those who sit on that bench to state their view, because we really ought to know what collective view there is about matters of this seriousness.
§ Mr. Hogg
I, too, was in order in saying that I very much hoped that my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston), who occupies the Front Bench with such distinction, would not attempt to define a party point of view about this, because he would be doing a great disservice to the Committee in this matter if he attempted to do so. I do not think there ought to be a party point of view. Obviously, the Government have a responsibility as a Government, but if we criticise the Government about some of the aspects of their handling of this matter, it is not as a party that we do so but as Members of Parliament.
I can only say for myself that I approach this question from this point of view. We are sitting here as a Committee of employers, for that is what we are. We are the employers of certain groups of men and we are discussing how we ought to treat our employees. It so happens that the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) in one sense represents those employees, 680 but he is, of course, like the rest of us, primarily here as a Member of Parliament. He is an employer, in other words. He represents the employers.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
I do not purport in anysense to represent the Post Office Engineering Union. It is true I am an officer of the union, but I have been on indefinite leave since February, 1947, and I have drawn no remuneration at all since that day. Therefore, while I was anxious to give the benefit of any experience I might have, I did not purport to be speaking for the Union.
§ Mr. Hogg
I quite understand that, and I did not mean to suggest the contrary. But I think I should be speaking no more than the truth if I said that the hon. Gentleman's speech reflects fairly accurately the point of view which the Union happens to possess, so far as it may be said to possess a collective point of view.
That brings me to the second of the two points which certainly do colour my approach to this matter. A Post Office union of which the hon. Gentleman happens to be a member is represented here in the sense that he is here. The other union is not. The hon. Gentleman holds, and obviously holds deeply, some very genuine and sincere opinions about the merits of this dispute. He is in a position to give the Committee the advantage of his opinion. The other union is not. That is no fault of the hon. Gentleman, and it is no criticism of the hon. Gentleman that it should be so, but it is a fact. When I approach this problem I bear that fact in mind.
I do not know anything about this other union except what I happen to have read in published papers. It may be a good union or it may be a very bad one—I do not know—but I start from the proposition that the other point of view is going to be put forward very much more eloquently and with a great deal more knowledge than the point of view of the E.O.T.A. For that reason I start very much determined in my mind that this body, which I call unrepresented in the sense which I have defined, has not got a spokesman, and very much determined that it should have a fair crack of the whip. I do not think there is anything to be ashamed of in that way of approach. I hope, therefore, that the 681 hon. Gentleman will not think that I am in any way seeking to attack either his union or himself if I scrutinise what is being said. That is the first thing that I want to say.
I did not hear what form the criticism took and, therefore, I can neither dissociate myself from it nor associate myself with it, but it is obviously a matter to be considered. An hon. Gentleman representing his constituents perfectly properly and holding an honourable place in the Administration, happens to be an officer of one of the unions which is a party to this dispute, and I think inevitably discusses the matter with his colleagues at a particular moment of time in such a way that he may influence them. I do not myself suggest that there is anything dishonourable in that. I would not dream of suggesting it. I should very much imagine that I should do the same thing in his place. But obviously that is a matter which has to be considered and upon which hon. Members are entitled to make some comment.
If it had been the other way about—if we were discussing, for instance, the affairs of a company and an hon. Member happened to be a director of that company or happened to have been a director of the company before he took office, and then had said in a public speech that he had been discussing informally with his colleagues in the Government the affairs of this company—I should be the last to suggest that there was anything dishonourable in it, but I should not be very much surprised, nor, in fact, very resentful, if hon. Members on the Opposition benches did draw attention to the fact and questioned how far he might not have succeeded in influencing his colleagues in a way which the other party to the dispute was quite unable to answer.
§ Mr. Porter (Leeds, Central)
If the argument of the hon. Gentleman is that the statement made by my hon. Friend was a result of the deliberations of a certain union, will the hon. Gentleman also agree that those people who were concerned in those deliberations were concerned as workers in precisely the grade which is now asking to form this new union—19 of them?
§ Mr. Porter
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask my question again? Does he know that 19 members of the executive committee of the union of which he suggests my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) is the spokesman, are working in the grade who are now asking to form a new union?
§ Mr. Hogg
Why should I doubt it? I am not going to dispute facts of that kind, but I am so purblind as to be unaware of their relevance. All these things have to be discussed in relation to this dispute.
That brings me to the Government's handling of this matter. I have followed this matter almost from the first moment that it came before the House, and I have since refreshed my memory by reading, as far as I know, all the references in the OFFICIAL REPORT to the matter at all stages when it came before the House. What made me start taking a rather peculiar interest in this question was this. I knew that as long ago as 1947, because I well remember being there, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as the head of the Civil Service, said:…it has always been the Treasury practice to base formal recognition in the full sense on numerical strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 2395.]Those were the rules of the game as I knew them. I knew them a long time before, and then the Financial Secretary told them to me.
When the matter first came before the House in the form of a Question to the then Postmaster-General, he gave a series of answers fully recognising that fact. He gave it to be understood that the only obstacle which was standing in the way of the recognition of this particular union was the fact that he was waiting to check their figures of membership and that if it turned out that their figures of membership were 40 per cent. of the whole, then the question of recognition would be determined according to the result of the check. There are two or three references in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have refreshed my memory about it and, quite independently of that, my memory was absolutely perfect. If those are the rules of the game, recognised in general as regards all Civil Service unions and recognised in particular in regard to the Post Office, then it is cheating to alter the rules of the game while the game is being played.
683 That is what I cannot understand in this matter. It may be perfectly right that the hon. Gentleman's union is the better of the two, and I do not want to express an opinion about it. I have no reason to doubt it, and it may very well be the case. I do not desire to question the statement that its service during the war was a first-class service. I do not think it is for me, as an employer, to take sides in a dispute between two bodies of organised labour to decide which has split away from the other. This union may on this matter have shown a smaller sense of responsibility to the public than the hon. Member's union that may be true and it may also be his case, but I do not think that it is for me, as an employer, to express an opinion about it.
What I am certain of is that, if an employer says he will recognise a union on the basis of numerical strength alone, and if he lets it be understood universally that the basis is 40 per cent. of the grade, and he then changes the rules while the game is being played—that is, after the application for recognition had been made on that basis—that employer is cheating his employees, It does not matter one iota whether the hon. Member's case is right or wrong. I do not believe this union has had a fair crack of the whip, because the rules of the game have been changed.
It so happened that I was in the House when the matter was first raised, and, after certain supplementary questions had been asked, I asked the then Postmaster-General whether he could give me the assurance which I wanted and which would have satisfied me if I had got it I asked him:At all events, will the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General give us an assurance that his review is not being undertaken for the exclusion on political grounds of unions whose basis of membership is otherwise adequate for recognition?"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 2nd Nov., 1949; Vol. 469, c. 390.]I got no such assurance, and that was the first thing that interested me in this question. That was long before the rules had been altered during the game. That was long before I even suspected or knew that, for reasons which I am perfectly prepared to accept were honourable and proper, the hon. Gentleman who has been an officer of the union had been discussing it with his colleagues in such a way that his representations could not have been 684 answered by the other side. Then, we find out in the end that, during the change of Postmasters-General, the check upon membership which had been expressly promised to this House in answer to questions, was not pursued by the present Postmaster-General.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)
It was because of the fact that we accepted that 40 per cent. of the members of the grade were of that union.
§ Mr. Hogg
That is precisely the point I am trying to make. The check was given up because, obviously, the new Postmaster-General had decided to change the rules of the game and agree to new rules, the exact nature of which have never been promulgated by the Government. Membership is not to be the decisive or reliable test. Therefore, it was very easy for the hon. Gentleman and his chief to say that they were not going on with that check and that they would admit the claim on numerical strength being adequate.
That increases the mischief of which I amcomplaining. First, they let it be known that the test is numerical strength. and then they let it be thought that 40 per cent, of the grade is the test, then representations are received from officers of the union, and then they change the rules of the game when the application had been made under the old rules. That is what I think is not playing fair, and nothing that is said about breakaway unions and nothing about this question of recruitment, which may or may not be true, has anything to do with this issue in the case, as I see it.
That brings me to one or two reflections about breakaway unions. I do not want it to be thought for a moment that I am saying that breakaway unions are good or desirable things in general or in particular, but I question myself whether a union which has 40 per cent. members which it claims to represent—very nearly half—can properly in any sense be called a splinter or breakaway union. I cannot, as an employer, go into the question of the methods of recruitment. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that no employer can go into methods of recruitment of unions in order to make a choice of which union to recognise. So to do would cut at the whole basis of trade union organisation.
685 I cannot, as an employer, and hon. Members, also as employers, should not, go into the question of recruitment by a union, making it the basis of the test for recognition. All I know is that this union got 40 per cent. of the grade among its members, and that is enough to call a substantial proportion. Nor is it right for an employer, or for the hon. Gentleman opposite in his capacity as employer, to go into the merits of the dispute which led to the split.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman is confusing the constitutional position. It is quite wrong to suggest that, in this capacity, hon. Members of this House are employers. We are not the employers. We happen to be public representatives, and, when serious matters of this kind come forward, while we are quite entitled to say to the Postmaster-General,"You are the employer, and we are going to scrutinise what you are doing," we are also entitled to consider the wider public aspect.
§ Mr. Hogg
I think the hon. Gentleman is allowing his very understandable feelings to cloud his judgment. These people are public servants, servants of the public employed by the public. We are the representatives of the public. We are therefore the representatives of the committee of management of the employers, and we give power, by our confidence or want of it, to be exercised by the Executive. To pretend that hon. Members of this House are anything less than employers in this matter is nothing but a quibble.
It is absolutely wrong for employers as such to go into the question of the merits of a dispute between two unions and to call one of them a break-away. That would strike at the root of one of the most fundamental principles of the trade union movement, although I must say that hon. Members opposite seem to be quite astonishing in their willingness to do so. They utterly fail to see that the basis upon which the trade union movement originally objected to the existence of break-away or splinter unions was because it weakened the position of organised labour in relation to the employers.
That was the reason why that was objected to, but, in this case—and I am not saying that this is an evil thing, but 686 only trying to show hon. Members opposite where they are going—in this case, the union which is in the weaker position of the two is, in fact, the T.U.C. union, because it is inevitably bound up by intimate personal and political ties with members of the present Government, which is the employer. That will be the case from time to time, if the Labour Party is in power in this country. It may be that a union which hitherto we have been supporting has not on the whole given us good service, and hon. Members opposite may be right or wrong about that. It is inevitable, with the position of the parties at present, that that will happen in the history of this country from time to time.
As an employer, I am not going to stigmatise any union as a break-away union in that sense where, at any rate, it has managed to carry with it a substantial proportion of fellow workers, because in my judgment, at any rate, this is a question for the organised workers to decide for themselves. The proof of this pudding is in the eating, and in nothing else. If these people have, in fact, 40 per cent. of their fellow workers behind them, it is not for the Government, still less is it for the representatives of other trade unions, still less is it for this Committee or the House of Commons, to go into the merits of the dispute, and say we are going to crack one of the disputants on the head and refuse to recognise him and that we are going to back up the other and call him a good boy. If ever we do that, we shall make every Civil Service union in the country a house union—which is one of the most detested names in the whole history of the trade union movement.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) said at the conclusion of his speech, in what, I think, was a moving, sincere and eloquent passage, that he hoped that my hon. Friend would do what he could to heal the breach between these two bodies. I certainly would hope that anybody in this Committee, whether my hon. Friend—I do not know whether he possesses any influence—or anyone, on either side of the Committee, will do his or her best to heal any breach that may exist which can be healed by good feeling and honest representation.
However, I do issue what I believe to be a perfectly sincere warning to the hon. 687 Gentleman. He will never heal a breach on the basis of one side in the dispute believing, however wrongly, that they are the victims; he will never heal the breach between these two bodies if the power of the Government is used, with the whole of the T.U.C. movement behind it, to crush out of recognition a body of men who have formed a separate union precisely because, rightly or wrongly, they have come to question the services which they are getting from the official movement. If he wants to heal a breach he must do so on the basis of generosity to his opponents, and not on the basis of force.
I am a Conservative. I am outside this dispute to a very large extent. I have heard it suggested that the union whose cause in a sense I am pleading—though it is in no sense my own—has a number of Communists in it who have dictated part of its policy. I have not the remotest idea whether that is true or false.
§ Mr. Hogg
I understand it was subsequently withdrawn, but it was said. But whatever the position, I feel absolutely certain that hon. Members opposite, whose feelings are very closely bound up with this matter, whose prejudices are very closely bound up with this matter, are leading one another along the wrong path, and that it behoves them to consider very carefully where they are going, otherwise they will pull down that which their predecessors, by suffering and travail, laboriously built up.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
I rise to speak as a member of a minority party in this Chamber; and, as a minority, we always are very sympathetic to the causes of other minorities. I do not know whether E.O.T.A. is a good or a bad union. All I know is that it is a minority group seeking justice—a minority group that qualified itself for recognition by its number of members. I listened with great sympathy and attention to the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards), and 688 the very eloquent case that he put forward, but I cannot believe for one moment that there are 5,000 mischief-makers in one union just trying to cause trouble to another great union. I think they must have some cause for wishing to break away from that larger union—because they do not feel that it entirely represents the things for which they wish to fight. It may represent quite a number of things they require, but there may be other things that they require in addition. I am quite sure it includes amongst its members some very public-spirited and very fine individuals. It may have its mischief-makers, as every organisation has.
I think we are all very indebted to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) and the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), both of whom have tried to keep this Debate upon a constructive level and in a friendly tone, because I believe that if we are to have lasting justice within this trade union movement it must be carried on in a spirit of good understanding throughout the whole movement. Therefore, I say that the Liberal Party, of which I am a member, have been very upset by some of the statements made by the Postmaster-General, for whose ability we have a very high regard. On 25th May, at a conference of the Union of Post Office Workers—this has been quoted before; and, indeed, many of the things I meant to speak about today hon. Members have spoken about already—the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to say:As Postmaster-General I am not going to offer rewards to dissident elements.I do not consider that this is a dissident element in that sense. I think it is a minority group which is trying to secure justice. Then he went on to say:I assure you it is not serving the best interests of the people you represent that attempts should be made on the part of minorities to use the House of Commons as the place for the settlement of these matters, which properly should have been settled inside your own union.I do not believe this matter would ever have come to this Chamber—it need never have come here—if justice had been done at that time.
The hon. Member for Oxford has pointed out that this is a minority union which qualified under the rules that then 689 existed for qualification; but it has not been recognised for one reason or another, and there is a very strong rumour afoot that it is intended to change the method of recognition. Therefore, I can quite rightly feel that it has cause to bring this matter forward, first in negotiation with the larger union and the other unions of the Post Office, and then, failing to get justice there, to bring it, as any individual in this country would do who was searching for justice, to the Floor of this Chamber to be discussed.
I have quoted two statements by the Postmaster-General. I will quote another made here. I am taking extracts, and in that way, perhaps, not doing full justice to the statement that he had. He said:Each case must be considered individually, and in any arrangement which may be made it will be one of my principal objectives to ensure that the interests of the staff are safeguarded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 1193.]I assume by this that he meant all the staff, not a section of the staff; and if he meant all the staff, then he should do justice to the minority as well as to the majority. Further on in that same statement, he said:It is essential also to take into account wider questions, such as the effect of a change in representation on the general working relationships in the Post Office."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 17th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 1194.]I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman this question. What has the major union in this matter to fear from the recognition of the minority union? If the minority union's cause is just and the majority union's cause is just, surely it will be a better service to the members of both unions if recognition is given. If there is something to hide, then let us have it here on the Floor of this Chamber, so that we may be able to judge for ourselves whether E.O.T.A. is a minority seeking justice or just some organisation that is trying to fool this Committee and the House into giving it sympathy and confidence.
I ask in a spirit of goodwill, which I hope will exist throughout these negotiations, that the Postmaster-General should call a conference of all the unions concerned. I ask that, if he does that, he will give, as far as the period of the conference is concerned, at any rate full recognition to E.O.T.A. as a union, 690 so that it may speak equally with any other union at that conference and so that all the necessary matters can be discussed there. Otherwise the Association will be without any form of representation for its members, while the existing recognised unions will be in a position to obstruct and delay such discussions, if they so desire. The Postmaster-General should at least, in our opinion, grant local recognition to E.O.T.A. until the discussions, if any, are finished. Unless some steps of this kind are taken, unless some proof of trust in E.O.T.A. is given until the end of that conference, it will be quite useless to call any conference, for E.O.T.A. will not be represented there with the other unions.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will consider settling this matter on a friendly basis. E.O.T.A. must have a good case. I do not know the points of that case, but there must be quite a lot of strong points in their case; otherwise I feel they could not have attracted 5,000 members representing 40 per cent. of the people whom they wish to represent.
I close my remarks on that theme. This is a matter that can be settled on a friendly basis. In other words, as the hon. Member for Oxford put it, we shall never get unity by saying, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested, that the large union is prepared to accept these people back into the union and to let bygones be bygones. These people feel that they have a definite case, and they have fought that case for a considerable time. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to give E.O.T.A. the recognition which many hon. Members believe is just.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said that many hon. Members on this side have prejudices. In this matter, I suppose that prejudices are closely allied to traditions. In spite of what he said, I cannot enter this Debate thinking of myself entirely as an employer. It is true that in another capacity I have led the employers' side on a joint council when I was a member of a local authority, but in this matter I speak principally as one with a long knowledge of the trade union movement, and with all the characteristic prejudices—to put it no higher than the hon. Member for Oxford put it.
691 I ask the Committee to examine this matter against the background of the wider principles to which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred. I do not think that we can look at this purely from the point of view of 5,000 people in the Post Office, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) was on quite firm ground when he spoke of other public considerations.
The trade union movement in this country has been a movement of long, slow and often painful growth, and I do not think it can be denied that, generally speaking, in the past the opponents of the trade union movement were hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those of us who have a long history in the trade union movement must not be blamed if we say, when we find the party opposite propagating the cause of a trade union, that we remember that that same party have been the traditional enemies of trade unionism.
A short while ago, when I was contemplating trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in a Debate on joint consultation, which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wound up for the Opposition, I went to the Library to look up an historic Debate of 30 years ago, when my union fought the major classical battle for joint consultation, and I thought how the debating climate in this House had changed in those 30 years. On that occasion, only 30 years ago, the whole of the party opposite went into the Lobby in a refusal even to allow that dispute to be referred to arbitration. That was something which occurred during my apprenticeship days, and it is perfectly fair that we should comment that there has been a considerable change of heart on the part of hon. Members opposite with regard to the trade union movement.
I remember in those days the association of the then Member for Croydon, Sir Allen Smith, with the Engineering Employers' Federation, and their claiming the right to send a man where he liked. Nobody who remembers the terms used in this House in those days on the question of the right of the engineers to have consultation, 692 when there were 80,000 of their members out of work, can doubt that there is a certain background of prejudice in our minds which will take a long time to eradicate.
It is only under the impact of war that hon. Members opposite tend to think of employers and employed as equal partners in industry. It has taken full employment to remove from industry the idea of the bully and the bullied, the master and the man. The test on this question of joint consultation in industry, about which hon. Members opposite spoke so eloquently recently, will come if there is ever a trade recession and the unemployed walk the streets again.
It must be remembered that the trade union movement started as the general defence of the poor in the days of the Combination Act, put upon the Statute Book by the ancestors of hon. Gentlemen opposite, as anybody who knows anything about industrial history will admit. We also still remember that it was an Act put upon the Statute Book by the party opposite which gave the Civil Service trade unions a very special position—the penal provisions of the 1927 Trades Disputes Act. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that the Civil Service trade unions should look at this question against that background.
At what point should break-away unions, formed by those who think they have special claims, be allowed? The principle of trade unionism is to band together so many men that they speak on equal terms with employers. The ideal, of course, is when shops are 100 per cent. organised in the trade union movement. I am now speaking, not as an employer, but as a trade unionist with all his prejudices. It is perfectly natural, therefore, that engineers, or whoever it may be, should bitterly resent, break-away unions. I do not think the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames could object to that as a proposition, because such bodies tend to 'break down what trade unionists consider to be their prime defence.
Even in the Post Office there is a long history of this sort of thing. It must be borne in mind that the Post Office union started in the 'eighties, and flourished in the teeth of the opposition of successive Tory Postmasters-General. 693 As a matter of fact, the precious 40 per cent. quota which has been put up here—
§ Mr. Osborne
What was the meaning of the word"precious," when the hon. Gentleman said they were a"precious 40 per cent."?
§ Mr. Pannell
I referred to this"precious 40 per cent." because it is rather a curious figure. If it pleases the hon. Gentleman, I will withdraw the word"precious." This 40 per cent. proportion started in the old days, when consultation was not at the present level; it was a convenient formula to say"As long as you represent 40 per cent. you will be recognised." The Tory Party themselves are not entirely in the clear on this. For the teachers, hon. Members opposite have preached an entirely different doctrine. Successive Ministers of Education, both Lord Halifax and the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler, refused entrance of the National Association of Schoolmasters to the Burnham Committee, and also I believe the women teachers' organisations, for no other reason than that the National Union of Teachers refused to take part in negotiations with them.
Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing
On this point of 40 per cent., I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest that the National Association of Schoolmasters have got 40 per cent.
§ Mr. Pannell
The fact that there are more teachers than Post Office engineers does not seem to prove anything at all. I suggest that we have to look at this now because the trade unions are at an adult stage in a time of full employment. We never get this argument about breakaways used by professional bodies, who are often represented by hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Who could envisage a breakaway body in the Law Society or the British Medical Association?
§ Mr. Macdonald
I happen to be an employer, and in the employers' association to which I belong there have been 694 two breakaways, both recognised. There are three associations in my industry from the employers' point of view.
§ Mr. Pannell
I never did think that employers understood collective bargaining. An employers' association is not a trade union—[HON. MEMBERS:"Oh, yes, it is."] It is not, it is usually a trade association for anti-social purposes, whereas the trade union serves a social purpose.
§ Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)
I think that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that it is a fact that the law recognises employers' associations as trade unions.
§ Mr. Pannell
I will accept the law's interpretation for purely legalistic purposes. I ask this question of hon. Gentlemen opposite: Are they attempting to foster a virile trade unionism or the old philosophy of divide and rule?
§ Mr. Pannell
No employer would strain himself to represent a minority point of view. If he were looking at it from the point of view of the ordinary normal employer, he would merely consider it as a matter of convenience. There was a curious analogy brought out on the question of the newspaper printing industry, when it was suggested that there were many trade unions in that industry but no two unions catering for one grade.
§ Mr. Pannell
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me two printing trade unions catering for one grade?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
In my firm, we employ compositors who are in the Typographical Association in the country and compositors who are in the London 695 Society of Compositors in London, and at the present moment they are in violent disagreement with one another.
§ Mr. Pannell
That is particularly an employer's contribution, and it proves my point. One of these organisations caters for the London area and the other for the Provinces, but not in the same office.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
One is in the country and the other in London, and they are disputing with one another. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to say whether either of them is a breakaway union.
§ Mr. Pannell
Both points of view have been discussed this afternoon and when all is said and done, the case was put with no greater force by my hon. Friend than it was for this union by its adviser. With regard to altering the rules of the game, I remember the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) using the same argument when the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) had challenged him to produce the balance sheet of his party in the last Debate in the last Parliament.
We are told that this question is much bigger than the treatment of 5,000 skilled men. It is a matter of public honour and also a matter of public policy whether the trade union movement, which has been built up over 100 years of struggle, should be subject to these threats. Speaking for my own trade union, we should bitterly resent the idea that after 100 years of history and the building up of our funds to win a position for the engineers at the present time, any sort of dissentient element, encouraged from the other side, should come in and have any sort of representation.
We have paid the price for our position, and we will defend our interest in this matter quite as stoutly as the lawyers and doctors, and for better reasons. We shall soon come to the position, if this sort of thing goes on, of having independent trade unions of rival bodies being sent up to the Trades Union Congress, and, in a period of recession, we shall have unions supported by the other side who have never really believed in the trade union movement. More and more as the State takes over private enterprise shall we need to be in a strong position to defend ourselves against the possible unhappy return of a Tory 696 Government, and the employees will really need to be organised. I think it is just as well that we should maintain the trade union movement at the greatest possible strength.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Brigadier Rayner (Totnes)
I have to feel very strongly about anything to try to catch your eye, Major Milner. The standard of maiden speeches in this Parliament is so high that I find it difficult to compete. I should like to say something very shortly about E.O.T.A. because a great many members of it served under my command or with me during the course of the war, in the Royal Signals. The Royal Signals is not a corps which advertises itself to any great extent except by winning rather more than its proportion of Army sporting events. It is however perhaps the most vital corps in the Army.
If one takes out of an Army in the field 2,000 infantrymen or 2,000 cavalrymen, or even 2,000 gunners, one merely makes that Army a little smaller but if one takes 2,000 telecommunications personnel then there is no Army left because the Army just cannot hang together. In the war the telecommunication personnel of the Royal Signals did a first-class job of work. They had to stand on their own feet, to use their own initiative, and to take the responsibility for any job they happened to be given. All that they are asking now is to be allowed to stand on their own feet. The right hon. Gentleman says, in fact, that he will not stand for their standing on their own feet and running their own union. He wants to be one of the big bosses of Socialism. He wants to press these technical officers into the mould of a Socialist approved union. He tells them that they must join the Post Office Engineering Union, which is the union approved by the powers that be and that they must accept his edict.
All of us went out in the war, including these chaps in telecommunications, to fight against dictatorship, but now they come back to find that their P.M.G. is a bit of a dictator himself. They went out to fight for the rights of minorities, but they come back to find that as a minority in the Post Office they have no rights at all, and I feel rather strongly about it. The speech the Postmaster-General made at the conference of the Post Office Workers' Union has already been quoted, 697 but I should like to quote something else that he said. He stated:And I assure you that it is not serving the best interests of the people you represent that an attempt should be made on the part of minorities to use the House of Commons as the place for the settlement of those matters which properly should have been settled inside your own union.Surely, if a minority in the country has a grouse, the right place in which to bring up that grouse is the House of Commons. I hope we shall show these chaps in E.O.T.A. that they have had a fair hearing tonight and that if they do not get a fair deal, we shall, in due course, play general post with the Postmaster-General by removing the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from that Front Bench, and see that they get their fair deal. As a soldier who has worked with these chaps in the field, I feel that they are worthy of it.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
As my time is short, I cannot give the attention I should have liked to give to all the points which have been raised. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) will forgive me if I do not follow the charging brigades. I cannot help thinking that had it been a case of 2,000 deserters the hon. and gallant Member would have had a very different point of view, especially if it were at a time when the enemy were attacking.
I speak as one who was in the Post Office service when official recognition was granted for the first time in 1904. I warn the staff that they are forgetting much of their history when they go out to multiply the number of organisations in the Post Office service. They forget the old days when Select Committees of the House of Commons were appointed and sat for two years inquiring into their grievances, then giving a shilling on the maximum and teaching them that the word"plus" meant a decrease and not an increase. That was the experience from 1895 downwards.
We are living in calamitous times. We are not yet out of our economic difficulties, and there is a threat of war. I have seen the number of unions reduced, not by using the bludgeon, but by common sense and negotiation. As the number has decreased, the staff have 698 gained more improvements. Recognition has meant much more to them, and their Whitley Committees have produced better benefits. Their status in the industry has been greatly improved. Reference has been made to the staff relations in the Civil Service. Let me quote from this official document.The great strength of Whitleyism in the Civil Service is that of an idea; the idea of bringing together the whole Civil Service; or the whole staff of a Department, of promoting on each Whitley body a single viewpoint and spirit, and of giving to civil servants a voice in the management of their profession as a whole.We worked for that, and we believe in it. Let not those Members who speak eloquently on the case for the minority not forget that this is a matter affecting nearly 250,000. We cannot determine this issue on the basis of 2,000 to 4,000 men.
§ Mr. Wallace
Never mind Hitler. I am quoting from this official document on the Staff Side Relations in the Civil Service. The hon. Member may want Hitler, but—
§ Mr. Wallace
Perhaps the hon. Member has not yet arrived. The point I am making is that this issue cannot be settled on the basis of 5,000 men when it affects nearly 250,000.
The Postmaster-General has reached a decision in line with all the recommendations made by the Select Committees of the House of Commons from 1906, which deplored the multiplicity of unions and the many voices speaking on the one interest. Time and again the Department has recognised the inconvenience, the delay, the leakage of information, the instability of agreements, the weakening of negotiations, which has resulted in the staff having to suffer. It is no use the staff thinking that if they split themselves up into small unions they will get an advantage over the rest of the staff. They must work with their fellows on any question affecting the whole.
699 My right hon. Friend has not excluded discussions, and one of the biggest unions in the Post Office has invited all the organisations to come together to discuss this problem. If the outside organisations will accept this invitation to come together and discuss the problem, I am sure they will find the Postmaster-General willing to listen and do his best to try and solve the problem. I hope I have said nothing to destroy any goodwill that exists in bringing about a settlement. There are many years of bitter suffering which lie behind the growth of their trade unions, and I warn the staff that they will suffer if they increase the multiplicity of the trade unions. I hope they are not going to undo the work that was done by their fathers and grandfathers, who took punishment and suffered poverty in order to make possible what they now enjoy. I hope they will listen to the advice and discuss it. It affects 250,000 workers.
No Tory Party will settle this issue. Those workers would be wise to accept the invitation, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will do his best to bring about a solution. The decision he has given is in accordance with the experience of the last 40 years. It can only be decided on merit, for it has always been so decided. It is not a question of recognition when 40 per cent. in strength is the claim.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. R. V. Grimston (Westbury)
I think it was suggested in some quarters that this was not a matter which ought to be discussed in the House of Commons. All I can say is that if that view had held, we should have missed a very interesting Debate, in the course of which we have had an impressive and able maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop). I do not think that the doctrine that this matter should not have been discussed in the House of Commons could be upheld for a moment, particularly in this case, because amongst the nationalised industries the Post Office has a unique place. Whatever may apply to the other nationalised industries, the Postmaster-General is responsible to this House for the day-to- day administration of the Post Office. We have a right, and, indeed, a duty, to bring that administration under review, which we are doing in this instance in raising the matter of the refusal of recognition 700 to the E.O.T.A. Therefore, I repudiate any suggestion that we should not be discussing this matter.
Further, it has been suggested that the Tory Party favours breakaway or splinter unions. [HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] I hear support for that from the other side of the Committee. Let me say quite categorically that we have no wish to encourage such movements either amongst the trade unions or the employers' organisation. If I may digress for one moment. Reference has been made to the fact that the then Lord Wolmer, when he was Postmaster-General, refused recognition to a breakaway union. If the Government supporters are going to pray Lord Wolmer in aid in that way, they cannot at the same time accuse the Tory Party of being in favour of a breakaway union. They cannot have it both ways.
From the employers' point of view, it is obviously much more convenient to minimise the number of bodies with whom negotiations have to take place, and minimise the risk of negotiations being upset by rivalries. For that reason I repeat we do not wish to see these breakaway unions. From the trade union point of view, obviously those that are established in a certain field do not wish to see others entering that field. That is perfectly natural, and by and large splinters and breakaways are a nuisance to authority.
But having said that, we might remember for a moment that it has happened more than once in our history that some person or body, through making themselves a nuisance, have in fact, preserved liberties which might otherwise have been taken away. If I might bring that illustration home, I would say that I have been in the House a certain number of years now, and I wonder how often have we seen an individual Member of this House making himself a nuisance to the Whips to preserve some right of this House? It has happened on more than one occasion, and not only on one side of the House, either. I think I can say something about that because I have been a Whip.
What I am really driving at is that our ordered liberty, upon which we pride ourselves in this country, and which we believe we have given to the world through our democratic system, depends for its 701 preservation on a right balance between nuisance and authority. In the case of the Post Office representations, this balance between what I might call ordered liberty and nuisance has been preserved by what is known as the 40 per cent. rule. I will not call it a rule if there is an objection to that word, because I know that the Postmaster-General has asserted that there never was a rule. Let us call it a practice, which has been followed for many years.
The reason we raise this case today is that the Postmaster-General has in this instance departed from this practice, because there is no dispute at all now that E.O.T.A. have got a 40 per cent. membership, which is essential for recognition if it is to be granted. The gravamen of our charge, as made by my hon. Friends the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) is that the Postmaster-General, for other purposes which I shall discuss later, altered the rules in the middle of the game.
Let me digress again for a moment. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) will agree with me here when I say that it is not easy for a new organisation to build up 40 per cent. against an already recognised trade union. There are certain advantages enjoyed by a recognised trade union such as being able to collect subscriptions in Post Office Departments, and being able to do certain of their business in Post Office buildings—facilities which are not enjoyed by the organisation which is attempting to build itself up for recognition. Thus, there are handicaps in building up a new organisation as against an organisation holding its position. From that one can deduce that where a new union has been successful in building up a genuine 40 per cent. representation there must be some real strength of feeling behind it.
Under the old practice the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association would have had recognition and the question we are asking, is why have they not? One reason is to be found in the opposition of the Post Office Engineering Union, and that is perfectly natural. This brings me to the speech made by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough. His speech was ably disposed of by my 702 hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, but as he addressed one or two remarks directly to me I should like to deal with them. He referred to the co-operation which he, as general Secretary of the union, gave to the Post Office hierarchy during the war. I had the honour of being Assistant Postmaster-General during the war and I should like to pay my tribute to that co-operation and to commiserate with him upon the irony of the fact that through that co-operation he may have lost some influence. That we cannot help.
The hon. Member went on to suggest that because that co-operation had been received during the war we should now take up sides on behalf of the Post Office Engineering Union. He completely misjudges the issue. We are not taking sides with anybody. I say that most emphatically. We are concerned to see fair play between two claims, and that the rule to preserve a reasonable balance between common sense and authority, which has worked very well over a considerable number of years, is not arbitrarily thrown on one side for what we believe are political reasons.
That is the position we take up. The question of giving support to a particular union, in this case giving support to the P.O.E.U. because of its co-operation during the war, completely misjudges the situation and puts that union upon a lower level of co-operation than it ought to occupy.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman and I took our share in creating a situation but now he contracts out. I would expect him to admit that in a matter of this kind one has to consider all the circumstances. That is all I am asking for and his side should use their good offices to put an end to it.
§ Mr. Grimston
That interjection of the hon. Gentleman shows that he continues to misrepresent the situation. I repudiate the suggestion that we should take sides in this matter, and I must say that I personally am sorry if his union is losing representation, but I think that he has to look out for that. To ask me to give support to a particular union as a quid pro quo for the support that he gave to the Government during the war is a most astonishing attitude.
703 The hon. Gentleman raised one or two other matters, but I must not take too long because I have promised the right hon. Gentleman time. The hon. Gentle- man complained of calumny, misrepresentation and abuse being used by this other union. All I can say is that he ought to have been a Tory. He would have been more accustomed to it. He can find some solace in the philosophy that with British people that kind of thing does not pay in the long run. None of us here are accusing him of doing anything dishonourable, but when he makes a speech in which he almost boasts of the contacts that he has among his colleagues in the Government even to discuss the E.O.T.A., he cannot complain that it appears that some political pressure has been brought to bear upon his colleagues. I leave it at that.
I turn to one or two remarks which have been made by the Postmaster-General, and which are relevant. I refer to a speech which he made at the conference of the Union of Post Office Workers on 25th May. It has already been referred to and I am sorry to trouble hon. Members with it but it is relevant. The right hon. Gentleman said:I gave a decision on a recognition question in the House of Commons which has met with a great deal of hostility and also a great deal of approbation.He went on in another part to say:We have great power; we have entered the door of the House, but far too many still knock on the door forgetting we have occupied the House.What exactly does that mean?
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)
Cannot the hon. Gentleman read on? I am sure he does not wish to misrepresent what I said.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to interrupt? He has quoted from my speech and he has selected paragraphs from it. I should be glad if he would read on.
§ Mr. Grimston
The next paragraph goes on:We have in this period a new responsibility; we have a responsibility to society. We have a responsibility you have to your 704 members and you must balance that. In the society through which we are moving today we require from the trade union movement the highest degree of statesmanship.It does not alter the context at all of what I previously read. The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from:We have great power; we have entered the door of the House but far too many still knock on the door forgetting we have occupied the House.Nothing can detract from that statement standing by itself. I go on to another quotation:We socialised an industry but we hesitate to socialise or to organise our trades unions on the same basis that we socialised industry.What does that mean? It means that they have nationalised a number of industries but that they have not yet nationalised the trade unions. [HON. MEMERS:"No."] That is the only inference to be drawn from it. The Postmaster-General goes on to say—[Interruption.]—I can see that hon. Members opposite do not like it:This jungle of unions inside the postal service (Cries of 'Oh')"—from the Gallery even there.Yes, the jungle of unions, 35. There is more time taken up in talking about problems in the G.P.O. than there is in doing the work.…and so on. I give these quotations. The House has heard them and can judge for itself. I come back to say that the only inference, particularly with regard to the remarks about the House and that hon. Members are there and God help anybody else who tries to get there too, gives one a very unpleasant reminder of what we had in the days of National Socialist Germany and a pretty sickening reminder of what happened to trade unions under that system and what happens to trade unions under Communism today.
I do not wish to hold up the right hon. Gentleman any longer. Let me say in conclusion. We believe that he has altered the rules and has refused recognition not on the merits of the case but for political considerations. We condemn him for that and unless he can satisfy us that that is not the case, I shall ask my hon. Friend to divide the Committee.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)
I was very much afraid that the Debate on this matter would embarrass me in what I am trying to do 705 outside. Fortunately, we have had an excellent Debate upon a really difficult problem. I should like to associate myself with the complimentary remarks made about the maiden speech from the back bench opposite by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop). It was a very sensible speech which showed a grip of the problem. I hope that we shall hear more contributions from him of the same concrete character that we heard today.
We have had a number of very interesting speeches. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has not been as provocative as usual. I am very glad, because no one could have stated the case for E.O.T.A. better than he did this afternoon. I shall try to deal with his points in the time at my disposal. We had a very good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards), whom we are glad to see back with us. He dealt with a number of points of mechanical detail with that complete knowledge that he has of this side of the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) approached the problem very sensibly and made an appeal for reasonableness in dealing with this matter. I hope that I shall not be deaf to an appeal of that sort.
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) dealt, among other things, with the job of getting these people together, and I shall come to that later on. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Macdonald) seemed to me to approach the problem but not to see all the difficulties. I am sure that he would not agree that any dissident body should have a North korean liberty to do what it wanted to do. I really did not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) was driving at, except that he mentioned the fact that the members of the parent union rendered very great service during the war. The majority of them still belong to the parent union and not to E.O.T.A. My hon. Friends the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. H. Wallace) and the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) showed just how strong are the feelings underneath the ordinary trade unionist in relation to this problem.
706 I was glad of the approach of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston). We were pleased to have his assurance that the Conservative Party did not want to encourage dissident elements or breakaway organisations. I was delighted to hear that in view of something which was shown to me today—that one of the dissident unions had published on the back of its journal,"Join the Conservative Party." Let me say right away that it is the duty of the Postmaster-General to view these problems fairly and without political prejudice. He ought not to take into account political affiliations and he ought not to take into account trade union affiliations, and I assure the Committee that I have looked at this problem objectively and that I have taken my decision on merit, and if the union had been affiliated to my political party I should still have taken the stand which I have done.
There is no need to argue about the details of the charges which have been brought up today, except this one. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that E.O.T.A. was concerned with only one grade. That is quite wrong. E.O.T.A. is recruiting members from three grades at least. It is claiming recognition for one grade, but the work of the three grades is interchangeable. Men who are employed in Grade A do work in Grade B when Grade A work is not available, and men who are in Grade C will do work in Grade A when work in Grade C is not available. Therefore, we have a complete interchange of function over three grades whose wages and remuneration must be related to these differentials.
Despite the fact that it is making a special claim for recognition for one grade only in which it has a minority of members, the union is recruiting members in other grades for whom it does not claim recognition and for whom it has never made a representation to the Postmaster-General, and as far as I can see it is not in a position adequately to represent the persons engaged in the functions which the three grades cover.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I have been asked by the Clerk to sit down a minute before 707 7 o'clock. I have quite a lot to say about this matter, and I shall be obliged if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I have had much less time than the opening speakers had and I have to reply to a Debate in which eight hon. Members have been engaged. I do not mean to be discourteous.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I now come to the Listowel formula. It is alleged that I have changed the rule, but it is only alleged and not a single fact has been brought before the Committee to show that I have changed the rule.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
The Listowel formula has nothing to do with the claim of E.O.T.A. Let us look at the situation in which the Listowel formula came into existence. There was an application by the Union of Postal Workers for a closed shop in the Post Office, and my predecessor, Lord Listowel, in his reply to this pressure for a closed shop, gave an undertaking to the union that he would not even consider any application for recognition unless the union making the application had at least 40 per cent. of the members in the grade. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames recognised in what he said subsequently that the achievement of 40 per cent. of the members in a grade did not automatically entitle them to recognition.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
It has never been the case in the Post Office, and I defy hon. Members opposite to quote a single case where the achievement of 40 per cent. membership has automatically entitled a union to recognition.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Can the right hon. Gentleman quote a single case in which a union which has achieved 40 per cent. membership has been denied recognition?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I mean Lord Wolmer. My apologies to Lord Listowel. Lord Wolmer, who was a Conservative, rejected an application in a case where 40 per cent. membership had been achieved. I assure the Committee that I have not changed the rule. All that has happened is that the Opposition have tried to persuade themselves that the achievement of 40 per cent. membership in a grade automatically entitles one to recognition. That is untrue. Hon. Members may read Estacode, the book about staff relations, any statement made by my predecessor and any speech which I have made, and the most that will be conceded is that only when 40 per cent. of the membership of a grade has been achieved will an application for recognition even be considered.
On the announcement of the Listowel formula E.O.T.A. wrote to my predecessor and asked what the rules were that would determine recognition after the 40 per cent. had been achieved. So E.O.T.A. has never been under any misapprehension about this, and I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite not to advise these members that they are entitled to press for recognition under a misapprehension. What is happening is that a number of the members now think, because of the pressure in the House of Commons, that I am deliberately doing them an injustice. [HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] I want to assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that I am not, and from what I have said it cannot be suggested that I am doing them an injustice. What is happening now is that in every journal issued by a dissident union, and there are four of them, charges are made of spying, of tyranny. Let me quote one. One of these dissident unions—
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
N.A.P.T.O. This is typical. The Postmaster-General is being abused by a counter clerk in a public conference in the most shameful manner. If he will behave like that in public to the Postmaster-General, what 709 sort of courtesy do hon. Members expect in the post offices of this country to the ordinary citizen? There is being encouraged in the Post Office by this political support a spirit of indiscipline, in some cases a spirit of sabotage. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite think I am exaggerating. Let me give an example.
A complaint came from an hon. Member below the Gangway about delay in answering a telephone. In the office in which this complaint arose there are four supervisors and 20 telephonists. Two of the supervisors are in a dissident union, two of them are in the parent body. The operators are split up in the same way. What happened? Supervisors belonging to the dissident body obviously tried to cover their own members. The supervisors of the parent body obviously tried to cover their members. Each one blamed the other. And I have to write to the hon. Member and say,"I am sorry, I cannot explain the cause of the delay." [An HON. MEMBER:"Shocking."] Of course, it is shocking, but it is true. Registered letters disappear in circumstances of that sort for which I cannot give explanations because there is in the post offices of this country a spirit of non-co-operation and a vendetta between various members of the staff. Is it suggested in those circumstances that I should make permanent that position?
I have only a short time in which to speak and I want to come to the good things I want to do. I have taken the view that this problem cannot be solved by a simple act of recognition of E.O.T.A. because what is given to E.O.T.A. must be given to each of the other dissident bodies. There are 250 grades in the Post Office and the logic of it is that we could get 500 unions. Is it not far better for everybody on both sides of the Committee to use what good offices they may have to end this business once and for all?
The hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) made a suggestion some time ago. I acted upon it. I went to the Union of Post Office Workers. Incidentally, I do not thank the dissident union who circulated extracts from my speech which completely misrepresented what I said at Margate. I told the Union of Post Office Workers that they had to show statesmanship in dealing with this problem, that they had to put their house in order 710 as well as attempt to put the economic house of the nation in order. I thought I was doing something worth while, occupying the position I do. The suggestion made by the hon. Baronet has been acted upon. A circular has been issued by one of the large unions and circulated to the other unions inviting them to discuss how they can rationalise the unions inside the Post Office. I think that is the correct approach.
Now there is this problem of E.O.T.A. and the three other dissident unions. I am authorised by the parent bodies to say that they are prepared to come into conference with the dissident bodies to find a solution to this problem co-operatively. Let us forget these vendettas and this bad spirit, because while it persists we cannot make the Post Office the efficient instrument it ought to be. Therefore, I ask hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to help us in this matter by refraining from worsening feelings.
I have already had discussions with E.O.T.A. I have had discussions with the P.O.E.U. Both Unions are prepared to meet together under my chairmanship, and I regard that as the best way of dealing with this problem. The chairman of the association representing the supervisory grades has said in regard to their dissident body that they, too, will meet under my chairmanship and are prepared to make all sorts of concessions to get unity. On the postal side I am having some difficulties. Personalities are involved and nasty things have been said one about the other. However, if we can solve this problem, we can move forward to the situation envisaged by the hon. Member for Abingdon, where we can have a rationalisation of this organisation so that every grade shall be represented adequately.
It is suggested that I should recognise E.O.T.A. before these discussions, but that would make the discussions impossible.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Because everyone must come in unconditionally. I cannot lay down conditions for either side. Therefore, everybody comes in on the status quo and we will argue the thing out freely and frankly. With goodwill from both sides of the Committee—I am sure it can be forthcoming—and with 711 the help of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been acting as advisers, we ought to end this problem in the Post Office and establish a splendid spirit of cooperation to get the maximum result for the nation.
§ Mr. Grimston
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for sitting down a minute before time, but he has not met the point put by my hon. Friends, that if there is to be a successful conference those who are entitled to recognition under the present rule should have it. As he has not met us on this, I must ask my hon.
§ Friends to divide the Committee. I beg to move,"That Subhead A.1, Salaries, etc., Headquarters Establishments, be reduced by £1,000."
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I cannot get a conference on those conditions. The important thing is to get them talking and if I lay down that condition I cannot get a conference.
§ Question put,"That Subhead A.1, Salaries, etc., Headquarters Establishments, be reduced by £1,000."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 236; Noes, 258.715
|Division No. 59]||AYES||7.0 p.m.|
|Alport, C J. M.||Eden, Rt. Hon A.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Amery, J (Preston, N.)||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E A H|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Erroll, F. J.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fisher, Nigel||Linstead, H. N.|
|Ashton, H (Chelmsford)||Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Llewellyn, D.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Fort, R.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Baker, P.||Foster, J. G.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Baldock, J. M||Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Baldwin, A. E||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C|
|Banks, Col C||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Longden, G. J M. (Herts S.W.)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Gage, C. H.||Low, A. R. W.|
|Bell, R. M.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Lucas, Major Sir J (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Galbraith, T. G. D (Hillhead)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Gammans, L. D.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O|
|Bennett, W. G (Woodside)||Gates, Maj. E. E.||McAdden, S. J.|
|Birch, Nigel||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||McCallum, Maj. D.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gridley, Sir A||MaCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S|
|Black, C. W.||Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)||Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)|
|Boothby, R||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Mackeson, Brig H R.|
|Bossom, A. C||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||McKibbin, A.|
|Bower, N||Harris, R. R. (Heston)||McKie, J. H (Galloway)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Harvey, Air-Codre A. V. (Macclesfield)||Maclay, Hon. J. S|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maclean, F. H. R.|
|Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Hay, John||MaoLeod, Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Head, Brig. A. H||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Heald, L. F.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)|
|Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W||Manningham-Buller, R. E|
|Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hill, Mrs E. (Wythenshawe)||Marples, A. E|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)|
|Carr, L. R. (Mitcham)||Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)|
|Channon, H.||Hogg, Hon. Q||Maude, A. E. U (Ealing, S.)|
|Caarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Hollis, M. C.||Mandling, R.|
|Clarke, Brig. T H. (Portsmouth, W.)||Holmes, Sir J Stanley (Harwich)||Medlicott, Brigadier F|
|Colegate, A.||Hopkinson, H L. D'A.||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Conant, Mai R. J. E.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T|
|Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Horsbrugh, Miss F.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nabarro, G.|
|Cross, Rt Hon. Sir R||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Hudson, W. R A (Hull, N.)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P|
|Crouch, R. F.||Hulbert. Wing-Cdr N. J||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Crowder, F P. (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hurd, A. R.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Crowder, Capt. John F E. (Finchley)||Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Oakshott, H. D|
|Cundiff, F. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W)||Odey, G. W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hyde, H. M.||O'Neill, Rt Hon. Sir H|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D|
|Deedes, W. F.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Johnson, Howard S. (Kemptown)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Donner, P W.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Osborne, C.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M||Kaberry, D.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Drayson, G. B.||keling, E. H.||Peto, Brig. C. H M|
|Drewe, C.||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Pitman, I J|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lambert, Hon. G.||Prescott. Stanley|
|Duncan, Capt. J A L||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Price, H. A. (Lewisham. W.)|
|Duthie W. S.||Langford-Holt, J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig O|
|Eccles, D. M||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K||Profumo, J D.|
|Raikes, H. V.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Rayner, Brig. R||Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Redmayne, M.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. R. (N. Fylde)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Renton, D. L. M||Stevens, G. P.||Wakefield, E. B. (Derbyshire. W.)|
|Robertson, Sir D. (Caithness)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Ward, Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Roper, Sir H||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Ropner, Col. L.||Studholme, H. G.||Waterhouse, Capt. C|
|Russell, R. S||Sutcliffe, H.||Watkinson, H.|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)||White, J Baker (Canterbery)|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Teeling, William||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Savory, Prof. D. L.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)||Williams, Gerald (Tonb[...]dge)|
|Scott, Donald||Thompson, K. P. (Walton)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E)|
|Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)||Wills, G.|
|Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Smithers, Peter H. B. (Winchester)||Thorp, Brigadier R A. F||Young, Sir A S. L|
|Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)||Touche, G C.|
|Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Turton, R. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Snadden, W. MoN.||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Major Wheatley and|
|Mr. Wingfield Digby.|
|Adams, Richard||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J (W. Bromwich)||Jeger, Or. S. W. (St. Pancras, S)|
|Albu, A. H.||Dye, S.||Jenkins, R. H.|
|Allan, A. C. (Bosworth)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Edelman, M.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Ayles, W H.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)|
|Bacon, Miss A||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Keenan, W.|
|Baird, J.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Kenyon, C.|
|Balfour, A.||Ewart, R.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon A. J.||Fernyhough, E.||King, H. M.|
|Bartley, P.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Finch, H. J.||Kinley, J.|
|Benson, G.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E)||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D|
|Beswick, F.||Follick, M.||Lang, Rev. G.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)||Foot, M.||Lee, F. (Newton)|
|Btenkinsop, A||M. Forman, J. C.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Boardman, H.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Lever, N. H. (Cheetham)|
|Booth, A.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N)|
|Bottomley, A. G||Conley, Mrs. C. S.||Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Gibson, C. W.||Lipton, Lt.-Col M|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Gilzean, A.||Logan, D. G.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McAllister, G.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Gooch, E G||MacColl, J. E|
|Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Greenwood, Anthony W. J (Rossendale)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||McGovern, J|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Grey, C. F.Griffiths, D. (Rather Valley)||McInnes, J|
|Brown, T J. (Ince)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Lianelly)||Mack, J. D.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||McKay, J (Wallsend)|
|Mackay, R W. G. (Reading, N.)|
|Butler, H W. (Hackney, S.)||Gunter, R. J.||MoLeavy, F|
|Carmichael, James||Hale, J. (Rochdale)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Callaghan, James||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mainwarlng, W. H.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hall, Rt. Hn. W. Glenvil (Colne V'll'y)||Malialieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E)|
|Clietwynd, G. R||Hardman, D. R||Mann, Mrs. J|
|Ginnie, J.||Hardy, E. A.||Manuel, A. C|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hargreaves, A||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A|
|Coldrick, W.||Harrison, J.||Mothers, Rt Hon. George|
|Collick, P.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Mellish, R. J|
|Collindridge, F||Hayman, F. H.||Messer, F|
|Cook, T. F||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Middleton, Mrs L.|
|Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W)||Hobson, C. R.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Holman, P||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Cove, W. G.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Moeran, E. W.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Crawley, A.||Houghton, Douglas||Morley, R.|
|Crosland, C. A. R||Hoy, J.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Hubbard, T.||Moyle, A.|
|Dames, P.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Mulley, F. W|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Nally, W|
|Darling, G. (Hillsboro')||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Baker, Rt Hon. P J|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||O'Brien, T.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Orbach, M.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Padly, W. E.|
|Deer, G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon G A||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Delargy, H. J||Janner, B.||Pannell, T. C.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Jay, D. P. T.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Donnelly, D.||Jeger, G (Goole)||Parker, J.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Patcn, J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Pearson, A.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Webb, Rt. Hon M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Peart, T. F.||Snow, J. W.||Weitzman, D|
|Poole, Cecil||Sorensen, R. W.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Popplewell, E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Porter, G.||Sparks, J. A.||West, D. G.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Steele, T.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Pryde, D. J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)|
|Pursey, Comdr H||Strachey, Rt Hon. J||White, H (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Rankin, J.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G R (Vauxhall)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Reeves, J.||Stross, Dr. B||Wigg, George|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon Edith||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Rhodes, H.||Sylvester, G. O.||Wilkes, L.|
|Robens, A.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Panocras, N.)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdara)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. B. (Huyton)|
|Royle, C.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham C.)|
|Shackleton, E. A A.||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightaide)|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Thorneyeroft, Harry (Clayton)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E||Thurtle, Ernest||Woodburn, Rt. Hon A|
|Shurmer, P. L. E.||Timmons, J.||Woods, Rev. G. S.|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Tomney, F.||Yates, V. F.|
|Simmons, C. J||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Slater, J.||Viant, S. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Hannan and Mr. Wilkins.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Seven o'Clock,The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.