HC Deb 17 May 1950 vol 475 cc1187-93
18. Mr. John Hynd

asked the Postmaster-General if he has now any further statement to make on the recognition of organisations of employees in the Post Office.

20. Mr. Richard Winterbottom

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement about unrecognised unions in the Post Office.

4. Mr. Storey

asked the Postmaster-General if he can now make his promised statement upon the recognition of staff associations in the Post Office.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I have now carefully reviewed the basis on which recognition by the Post Office should be given to new staff associations. In view of the paramount need in the present critical national situation to ensure harmonious working relationships and measures of co-operation between the Post Office and its staff as a whole, I have reached the conclusion that it is desirable to correct certain misapprehensions that have grown up regarding Post Office policy in dealing with requests for recognition of new associations.

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 deciding any particular case it is necessary to take account of such factors as the degree to which the new association is representative of the staff concerned, how far the grade or grades in respect of which recognition is claimed can properly be regarded as a separate entity from the point of view of staff organisation and discussions, and generally the position of the grade or grades in question in relation to other grades in the same organisation. 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.

In the light of these considerations, and after weighing up carefully all the relevant factors, I have come to the conclusion that I ought not to grant recognition to the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association.

Mr. Hynd

When the Postmaster-General says that this is not a matter that can be subject to an automatic formula, is that not a departure from previous practice in the Post Office?

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, Sir.

Mr. Winterbottom

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this unrecognised organisation, of which, I understand, the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is the legal adviser, is a break-away body for a recognised trade union, and that there are dangers in the granting of recognition at this particular stage?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

While dissociating myself and the organisation concerned from the rather doubtful compliment the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. Winterbottom) has just paid to it, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the decision he has just announced means that he is applying retrospectively his new rule as to recognition? Is he not, in fact, denying to an organisation, which for eight months, under the old rules, has been entitled to recognition, the recognition to which it has been entitled during that period?

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, Sir, I have not changed any rule. What I have read out to the House today follows very closely what the Earl of Selborne, formerly Lord Wolmer, said on this point when he was my predecessor. With regard to the rule which has been mentioned, it has been misquoted, and if the hon. Gentleman will look at the annual conference agenda of the union, which, apparently, he represents, he will find that they also take a view contrary to the one he takes.

Mr. R. V. Grimston

Is the Postmaster-General saying that there has been no rule? It has, at any rate, been the rule for some time that if an organisation shows it has 40 per cent. of the members in a grade it can ask for and get recognition? Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman is taking up the position that he is to be the sole arbiter as to whether he will allow recognition or not, whereas previously there was some entitlement to recognition for a body with a proper amount of representation?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I think the question the hon. Gentleman has put clinches the whole business. Since about 1946 or 1947, it has been laid down that a union or an association must have 40 per cent. of the people in a grade in its membership before it could ask for consideration of its claim. I have not disturbed that at all. I am not contesting the figure. I have considered this body's entitlement. It asked me to consider its claim for recognition. I have considered the claim for recognition. Recognition is not automatic on the achievement of 40 per cent. membership, and never has been in the Post Office.

Mr. Winterbottom

Will my right hon. Friend continue to bear in mind that Tory infiltration may be as dangerous to existing labour relationships as Communism?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I think it is advisable and far better in these disputes between unions that they should be left to the industrial field, rather than brought into the political arena.

Sir Ralph Glyn

Can the Postmaster-General say, in view of his remark that there were 37 different unions engaged in Post Office work, what steps he means to take to bring about, with the T.U.C., a more modern organisation of labour representation?

Mr. Ness Edwards

This is a problem, and a very great difficulty in the Post Office. If the alleged formula applied— the alleged rule applied—I should have 500 unions, and that would be an impossible situation. In such a situation, when there are negotiations, one finds something like a Dutch auction taking place. One organisation asks for so much, and the competing one asks for 4s. or 5s. more than the first asked for. I shall give my attention to this problem once we have got this matter out of the way.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

While agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman that this problem ought to be settled on industrial grounds, may I ask him if he is aware that a large number of people in this House and in the Post Office think that this problem is being settled on political grounds?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I want to assure both sides of the House that the decision I have taken follows very closely a decision taken in precisely similar circumstances by a Conservative predecessor of mine.

19. Mr. Joseph Hale

asked the Postmaster-General whether, in view of their demand for recognition, he has now any statement to make regarding the National Association of Postal and Telegraph Officers.

Mr. Ness Edwards

A claim for recognition has been received from the National Association of Postal and Telegraph Officers. I have come to the conclusion that I ought not to grant recognition.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say for what reason?

Mr. Ness Edwards

For the reason that it is not representative, and that the largest body of workmen is adequately covered by the association of workmen that now exists.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why he has come to the opinion that they are not representative? Arising out of his answer to the previous Question, will he name the 500 unions which have the 40 per cent. membership?

Mr. Ness Edwards

There ought not to be any misapprehension. If the formula that is put forward by the hon. Gentleman were applied to the Post Office we could have 500 unions.

Mr. Henry Strauss

The right hon. Gentleman, when answering the previous Question, referred to a dispute between unions. Surely he could recognise a union that has over 40 per cent. membership without withdrawing recognition from any other union. Will he explain why he refers to a dispute between unions? Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his predecessor was consulted before——

Mr. Paton

On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir, if it is in order for a speaker, when asking a supplementary question to this Question, to tie it up with the previous Question?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for me. I was, as a matter of fact, about to rise to say we must not debate this Question. Hon. Members may only ask questions. However, it is a matter for me to decide.

Mr. Strauss

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, secondly, whether his predecessor was consulted before the Treasury published this document, "Staff Relations in the Civil Service," last year?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I do not know whether my predecessor was consulted, but there is nothing in that document inconsistent with what I have said from this Box, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will examine it closely he will find that I am in accord with the document. With regard to the first part of the supplementary, in this case this is a small union; it is a dissident body—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is merely a break-away union; it is of no great size; it does not represent a large body of opinion, and as that section of the workmen are now properly represented I do not propose to extend recognition to this organisation.

Captain Crookshank

As you, Mr. Speaker, have pointed out, we must not ask questions unduly long on this subject, so may I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we shall seek an opportunity of discussing this further, in view of his very unsatisfactory reply.

21. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has now examined the undertaking given by the Assistant Postmaster-General on 14th December, 1949, to check the member- ship figures of the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association on 31st December, 1949; and what action he now proposes to take.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Yes, Sir; and in the light of my general statement I see no purpose in carrying out a check at the present time. I have come to this conclusion on the assumption that this Association's membership figures are as claimed.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of that answer, does the right hon. Gentleman withdraw the remark that he made two months ago, to the effect that he disputed the figures they had put forward?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am not certain that I said that I disputed them. What I said was that I could not confirm them, and that is the line I have taken all along; but in this case I assume that they are what they claim them to be for the purpose of the consideration of this question.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that he will not recognise this Association, whatever its membership figures may be?

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, Sir. It does not mean that at all.

22. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Postmaster-General what are the existing rules governing recognition of staff associations by the Post Office.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I have already made.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the obscurity of that statement, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is his contention that he has announced any change or is merely continuing the existing rules?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I have announced no change at all.

Mr. Awbery

Are we to take it that it is now the policy of the Opposition to encourage break-away unions?

23. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Postmaster-General when his review of the rules governing recognition of staff associations in the Post Office began; and whether he will now state its result.

Mr. Ness Edwards

My review started on my reaching office on 2nd March. I have already made a general statement on this matter.