HC Deb 31 July 1953 vol 518 cc1748-68

3.3 p.m.

Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)

Yesterday in this House my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General made a statement concerning a long-standing claim for recognition by the Post Office of a union known as the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) Association which, for brevity, I will refer to hereafter as E.O.(T.) A. A few days before that, because of the long-standing history of this case there appeared on the Order Paper a Motion in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself declaring that this union should be recognised. Because of the statement that the Postmaster-General had decided not to recognise the union, I am raising this matter today. In view of the past history of this case, I feel that the decision not to recognise cannot go unchallenged.

I do not wish to weary the House but I think, as a background to what I have to say I must briefly recapitulate what has happened. E.O.(T.) A. claimed recognition to represent the technical officers' grade in the Post Office because they have 40 per cent. of the membership of that grade. So far as I know, that figure has never been disputed. On this question of 40 per cent. I must refer briefly to the handbook entitled, "Staff Relations in the Civil Service" which is issued by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and was reprinted as recently as 1952.

Paragraph 13 on page 5 of this handbook states: 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 staff of the grade or grades concerned… The next paragraph begins, As membership figures alone determine recognition… I ask the House to note that. We had two debates on this matter in 1950. Hon. Members will forgive me if I refer to two statements made then. It is a habit which some of us have: I have looked up what I said myself. The right hon. Gentleman who was Postmaster-General in the Socialist Government was being challenged by us for not recognising this union, and I said to him: 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. Friends to divide the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1950; Vol 477. c. 704]. when I said: He did not satisfy us and we divided the Committee. The matter was again raised on the Adjournment in October. 1950. That is why I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it appears that he is coming to this decision from political prejudice… That was the decision not to recognise the union— Anybody who has read the debates and knows the history of this matter knows that that is the case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1950; Vol. 478. c. 2446.] I submit that after what was said only one impression could be left upon the mind of any hon. Member on either side of the House, and that was that had we at that time been in a position to recognise E.O. (T.) A. we should have done so. I do not think anybody can have gone away with any other impression. But having recognised this union, we would not say that the rules or customs under which it is recognised are sacrosanct, but we suggest that we should get together to see if the basis was the right one to continue to use as the basis for recognition. The rules or customs should not be altered in the middle of the game.

I do not suggest that an actual pledge was given to recognise the union but that most certainly an attitude constituting a moral, if not an honourable, undertaking was taken up by us at that time. We have gone back on that not upon the merits of the case, because they are the same—the union still has its over 40 per cent. representation and it still represents the same grade—we have gone back on it as a matter of expediency or appeasement. I do not believe that that in the long run will get the respect of anybody.

What should have been done was this: upon the morrow of our taking office we should have said, "This is one of the obligations into which we have entered and we must honour it." We should have added, "Having honoured it, the field is open for discussion as to how we should handle this controversial problem in future." I note that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) is present. He was Assistant Postmaster-General at the time. I do not believe that he would have been surprised if we had taken that attitude.

I must make it plain that I and a number of my hon. Friends dissent, to put it at its mildest, from the non-fulfilment of what we regard as an honourable undertaking. I wish to refer to one feature of the statement which was made yesterday. Reference was made to certain events since the matter was first raised. My hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General then said: He has also had the advantage of the opinion of a man with wide experience in labour relations, Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts, whose appointment was agreeable to both sides and who attempted conciliation between them. The advice tendered in each case what the same: that E.O.(T) A. should not be recognised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 1549.] I am a little surprised that someone who is appointed as a conciliation officer to try to bring the two sides together in conciliation should make a recommendation as to the question about which he was supposed to conciliate; that is, on the merits of the case. I am very surprised that the Postmaster-General bases himself on the recommendation of someone who I do not think was appointed to adjudicate, but was appointed to see if he could bring the two sides together. I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about that when he replies.

Having said something about this particular case, may I now say something about this problem of recognition generally? I am not an employer; neither can I claim to be an employee, though, as a matter of fact, at one time in my life I spent 18 months at the workshop bench. What I should like to say is that, although obviously I cannot speak for the trade union movement, I am one of those who realise that that movement has been built up on loyalty, and I would be the last person to denigrate from the importance, and indeed the greatness, of loyalty.

Things do not remain static, however, and it seems to me that the trade unions to a very large extent have outgrown their original function. As I understand it, their original function was to protect the weaker workmen against the power of the employer. They banded together, and, of course, loyalty was absolutely essential if they were to band together successfully and achieve their objects. But we have moved a good deal away from that situation today, and from merely existing to get a fair deal from employers the great trade unions halve almost become part of the constitution. They are consulted on matters of State, there are joint production committees, and they fulfil a necessary rôle, which is recognised by everybody as being far beyond the one for which they were originally created.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

And a very good job, too.

Sir R. Grimston

And a very good job, as the hon. Member says. While splinter and breakaway unions are anathema to the established trade unions, and, I would add, to employers too, I think some reasonable freedom of association must surely be preserved; otherwise, it seems to me that the individuals who previously banded together to form these unions for their protection are liable to be crushed by the very organisation which they created for that protection.

By way of illustration, I should like to refer to a couple of letters which appeared in "The Times" last week, and I use them as illustrations only because I do not know everything that happened in the case. On 25th July, under the signature of Mr. Victor Gollancz, there appeared a letter headed "A Trade Union's Decision." I do not want to read it all, because I dare say many hon. Members have already read it. It refers to the case of a man who, with complete anonymity, is referred to as "Mr. X." After having been a member of a trade union for many years, he was promoted to be a salesman, which meant that he passed outside the orbit of the union——

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I take it that, if the hon. Gentleman is going to read from that letter, he will, presumably, read the letter that followed it a day or two afterwards, putting rather a different point of view?

Sir R. Grimston

If the hon. Gentleman will give me time, I have the second letter, which is the more important, and I am going to read it. I merely mention the first letter in order to give the background of the case.

As I say, this Mr. X became a salesman. He therefore went, I presume, into a grade above that which his previous union represented, and he lapsed his subscriptions. He met with misfortune. He became ill and had to be taken off the road, and, as a result, his employers, and indeed the local chapel of his union, wished him to be put back on his previous job. In order to punish him the union refused to give him back his card, which means, of course, a very serious thing for him because he cannot be reemployed in his old job.

Mr. Gollancz ventilated this case in "The Times," and on 28th July the following letter appeared, to which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) referred. I ask the House to be good enough to let me read it at length, because it puts both sides of the case so well, the trade union side and also the threat of tyranny. It says: This man X had been a member of a trade society for many years, and during that time he had no doubt been pleased to accept all the many benefits and safeguards that his trade union had been able to gain for him. These had only been gained as the result of the assistance and unity of his fellow trade unionists. As soon as he was strong enough, or thought he was strong enough, to stand on his own feet, X withdrew his little help from a society to which he had then every cause to be grateful, and by giving up his card intimated to his fellow members that in future he would not call upon them for assistance. This was because 'there was no reason to believe that he would not be on the road permanently'"— That is, of course, a reference to the new job which he had— but X at his age should have known that there is no reason to think that any job is permanent. In all this X has shown himself to be ungenerous, ungrateful and stupid, and such conduct must be punished by a trade union so that others may learn that it does not pay. The punishment in this instance, however, is of the utmost severity and amounts to the virtual denial of a man's right to work for a livelihood—a terrible sentence for any worker to bear. All good trade unionists will be sorry for X in his present distress, and although they will not uphold his actions, neither will they uphold what amounts to trade union tyranny. I think that letter poses both sides of this problem very well indeed.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question? Can that possibly apply to any trade union in the Civil Service?

Sir R. Grimston

I do not quite see the relevance of that question. I cannot answer it, but I should have thought that it might or might not apply. Quite frankly, I do not see the relevance of it. I am talking about the general issue.

It seems to me that if the doctrine of trade union solidarity is to be pushed so far as to become a tyranny, then, in the long run, I do not believe that the ordinary men and women of this country will stand for it, because it is so against everything for which every class in the country has fought for so many years. Therefore, it seems to me that this question of reconciling recognition with the maintenance of the great trade unions is a question which has got to be approached, and approached by all of us.

I now turn to the present position in the Government service, particularly in the Post Office, which seems to me to be very confused. We have a particular interest in this House because the Postmaster-General is, of course, the only employer of labour who is directly responsible to this House and who can be taken to task by this House for what he does. At the present moment, we have the staff rules which say quite categorically that numbers are the only basis of recognition, and those rules were reprinted as recently as 1952. We have the Terrington Report. In its general recommendations it recommends that this basis be abolished but suggests nothing to put in its place. I want to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General what is to be the basis in the future upon which his right hon. Friend intends to deal with claims for recognition, because at the moment we seem to be in a complete void in this matter.

I speak only for myself, but I think a number of hon. Members agree with me, and I do not think any of them hold that the 40 per cent. figure is sacrosanct. Possibly it might have to be 50 per cent., or 55 per cent. if hon. Members like. But I think hon. Members opposite will agree with this: that the employer should not be the sole arbiter as to which association a man must join. Unless we have some numerical rule or something of that sort, it is difficult to escape from that being the case. It seems to me that the idea underlying these staff rules, where they say that numbers are the only basis for recognition has a great deal to be said for it.

Mr. Hobson

When the hon. Member speaks about a given percentage for recognition, does he mean the percentage of a certain grade employed in the Post Office, because, if so, logically there could be nearly 500 trade unions in the Post Office?

Sir R. Grimston

There are always difficulties when we state a principle. Difficulties may always occur in particular cases. I am talking about a principle of recognition, and I believe that difficulties of that sort can be overcome. What I am saying—and I rather hoped that the hon. Member would agree with me—is that the Postmaster-General ought not to be the sole arbiter as to which union a Post Office employee has to join. I do not think the hon. Member could possibly dissent from that. It would surely be against the principle of freedom of association to say that no new trade union is ever to be recognised, and I do not believe the British people will ever accept such a suggestion. What we must do is reconcile this basic human freedom with the position which the great trade unions have built up and which, as far as I know, only the Communists would wish to undermine. In this case, can my hon. Friend tell me on what basis E.O.(T) A. could now be recognised?

In conclusion, I say with regret that, as I see it, we have gone back on an attitude and on a cause which we espoused in opposition, not on the merits of the case but for expediency; and in the long run I do not think this sort of thing will command either the trust of our friends or the respect of our opponents.

3.23 p.m.

Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)

A number of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate and I will therefore be very brief. If I do not finish within 10 minutes I hope hon. Members will remind me of the fact, and then I will sit down.

The hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) referred to the rule about 40 per cent. He knows it is not sacrosanct. He has been Assistant Postmaster-General. He knows it is only one of the criteria for consideration. I do not think we need waste any more time about that. The hon. Member spoke of the function of the trade union to protect the weak. Heaven knows, they have had to protect the weak—and from whom?

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

The liberal employer.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Member for Westbury seemed to regret that their influence had increased—except in wartime when they shouldered great responsibilities.

Sir R. Grimston

If I gave the impression that I regretted that it had increased. I am sorry. I certainly do not. I was merely reciting what had happened.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Gentleman referred to a letter in "The Times" which had nothing to do with this case. He cannot point to a single instance in the Civil Service or the Post Office where an individual has been penalised by a Civil Service or Post Office trade union. We accepted responsibilities and we entered into an agreement. We expect you to honour the agreement just as we honoured it during your term of office. Is there no obligation on the other side towards a trade union which accepts responsibility arising from an agreement? Do you wish to interrupt?

Sir H. Williams

No. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Chair as being expected to honour the agreement.

Mr. Wallace

No, I do not think that I did. The hon. Member is often mistaken and he is mistaken this time. The Chair will call me to order if necessary, and without the help of the hon. Member.

There is no question of a denial of a new trade union. No hon. Members on either side of this House can prevent a new union arising. The hon. Member for Westbury said, I believe in July, 1950, that he wished to take no side. He has taken a side today. Hon. Members opposite are making this a political issue. They are doing a very bad dis-service to this country, because if this issue goes outside the House of Commons the repercussions will be many and serious. Hon. Members should take their choice.

Sir R. Grimston

Is the hon. Gentleman threatening?

Mr. Wallace

I would not dream of threatening. I have said that you have turned this into a political issue.

Sir H. Williams


Mr. Wallace

The gentleman opposite.

Sir H. Williams

The hon. Gentleman should not say "you."

Mr. Wallace

I think that it would have serious repercussions. I know that hon. Members opposite treat this as a joke. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] You are not up against the Union of Post Office Workers at all. It is not concerned in this case. The situation has changed since this subject was fully discussed before. We have had the Terrington Report, and I should have thought that it would have been the desire of the House not to take sides and that we would have been guided by the Terrington Report. Paragraph 25 of that Report states: We see no reason to recommend the grant to the Association of joint recognition in respect of technical officers, and we are satisfied that the P.O.E.U. provides the means whereby their grievances can be ventilated and their interests advanced. More important still, the Terrington Committee point out that the conflict in this union between these technical officers is a domestic dispute and an issue that cannot be settled by setting up another Union. The dispute would go on, and the House of Commons should keep clear of that kind of dispute. I promised to be brief and I am going to sit down.

Sir H. Williams

Hear, hear.

Mr. Wallace

I hope that when the hon. Member gets up I shall give him some reason to sit down.

We have had this Report and the Government have made their decision quite clear in a very difficult situation. I hope that the House of Commons will not take sides. It will make a very serious mistake if it does so. I tell the members of the Unions concerned, speaking as one with 40 years' experience, that what is being advocated from the other side of the House today is not new. We had it 40 years ago—many trade unions, many grades, many rates of pay, low pay for all, and weakness and disunity. The views advanced by hon. Members opposite are advocated not out of interest in the worker but in the interests of the employer.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)


Mr. Wallace

It is a full attack on trade unions. You regret their increased influence. You regret their power, and in every way you can you use your political power to attack these unions.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I would remind the hon. Member that I am not using my political power.

Mr. Wallace

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It is an attack upon trade unionism, and I hope that the Government, having given their decision, will remain firm and not yield to the splinter group on the other side.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I recognise that the House might well be impatient of listening to someone who knows nothing at all about Post Office or trade union administration. But most certainly I have not the slightest doubt that it is right to make some reply to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Wallace). How can I avoid being interested in this problem, as a Member of this House? I have three kinds of constituents. Some are on the E.O.(T.) A. side of the dispute. Some are on the other side, as trade unionists, and there is a larger group of constituents who are anxious to have the best possible Post Office service. I have to represent those three bodies here as best I can. I cannot avoid expressing some view about the matter.

I do not for a moment propose to enter into the large variety of considerations which must govern the question of recognition or non-recognition of E.O.(T.) A. but there is one matter which is greatly striking to a layman who looks at this problem. My hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General, in making his announcement yesterday, pointed out the large proportion of representation—I think 16 out of 23—that this grade has on the executive of I might call the T.U.C. union. [HON. MEMBERS: "T.U.C.?"] Hon. Members know the right name, if I do not. I think it is, in fact, the executive of the P.O.E.U. That is a striking thing because, to a layman, it looks like overwhelming representation.

As against that, we have this view, which is also strange to a layman, that E.O.(T.) A., without the advantages which recognition can obviously give—and one of the advantages which recognition gives, I suppose, is having time off for attending to trade union matters—has increased its membership by attracting more and more people who apparently are prepared to pay for its services. I find it very difficult to square that situation with the view held by the contribution payers that they are receiving inadequate representation. That is what troubles me.

I wish to ask a question of my hon. Friend about his statement yesterday. The hon. Member for Walthamstow. East said that we none of us have power to prevent a new union arising. I am not so sure about that. It is an extraordinarily optimistic sort of union in the Post Office, I should have thought, which was going to arise and continue in being unless it had some hope of recognition at some stage. If we as a House are in control of recognition, we are in a position to stop new unions arising.

In his statement yesterday my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General said: … there are no valid grounds, as things are now, for acceding to their claim for recognition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 1550.] I hope that my hon. Friend will indicate what would be the circumstances in which there would be valid grounds for recognition. If he does that, then there may be some hope that some new union, should there be desire for it to arise, should receive recognition ultimately.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Mr. Gammans.

Mr. W. R. Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like to know whether you are permitting the closing of this discussion when the Minister has replied.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That depends on the time. I am not closing the debate at all.

Mr. Williams

May I put another point of order to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Are you prepared to call me before you close the debate?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I can give no undertaking about that.

Mr. Pannell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope you will bear in mind that there are considerable trade union interests represented by this side of the House, and that on this of all subjects it would be most unfortunate if there appeared to be a lopsided discussion.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes. Mr. Gammans.

3.35 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Wallace), whom we much respect for his normal good humour and conviviality, misunderstood, I think, the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) raised this subject today. My hon. Friend was not attacking trade unionism as such. If he was attacking anyone, he was attacking me because of the attitude that I have taken. I hope that the hon. Member opposite will not go away with any idea that this debate, which deals with a particular union, is in any sense an attack by my hon. Friends on either the great trade union movement or its place in the community.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Member is being attacked by his hon. Friends, but my interpretation of that is that it is an attack upon the trade unions.

Hon. Members


Mr. Gammans

The hon. Member has misunderstood the whole object of the debate. When he started off I thought he was going to help to defend me, but at the end I was not sure whom he was trying to help.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

We have memories.

Mr. Gammans

Memories are no concern of mine.

Let me start by saying that I appreciate fully not only the motives which have led my hon. Friend to raise this question in debate, but also the very great sincerity which has prompted nearly 50 hon. Members to sign the Motion which appears on the Order Paper. No doubt they feel very passionately that when they were in opposition they took a certain line of action in regard to E.O.(T) A. and went into the Lobby and voted in favour of that line of action.

I went into the Lobby and voted with them, and, therefore, I not only appreciate their feelings, but so far as their political consistency is at stake, I am involved as much as they are. I would agree with my hon. Friend that nothing could be worse for the reputation of a political party or, for that matter, of parliamentary Government, than that it should be felt that we were changing the line that we took on a particular matter merely because we changed sides in this House.

What I hope I shall succeed in doing is to convince my hon. Friends that the action that they took when in Opposition does not conflict materially with the policy which the Government have adopted. That policy in no way upsets their political sincerity. There are two things I must make clear from the beginning and the first is that, so far as the Post Office is concerned, there is not and never has been a pledge that 40 per cent. membership of a particular grade would automatically qualify a union for recognition.

Mr. W. R. Williams

The hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) knows that.

Mr. Gammans

As I told the House yesterday, the so-called Listowel formula, which has been used through these debates, qualifies a union with 40 per cent. membership for consideration, but consideration is a different thing from automatic recognition.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

In view of the mutterings that are going on on the other side of the House, I should like to make it clear that we are fully aware of the fact that the so-called Listowel formula only entitles a union to consideration, but the point is that in 1950 and 1951 this party gave the unmistakable impression that had we been in office we should have agreed to recognition and all we wish to know now is, what have been the material changes since then?

Mr. Gammans

If my hon. Friend will wait I am coming to that.

I must deal with the 40 per cent. formula from the point of E.O.(T.) A and perhaps I should draw the attention of the House to the documents which put that fact beyond any shadow of doubt. First, there is the Treasury booklet on "Staff Relations in the Civil Service," first published in 1949, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, who opened this debate, referred.

These words are used: The Postmaster-General has recently announced that the Post Office will consider requests for recognition if the Association making the request can show it has a membership of at least 40 per cent. of the organised staff of the grade concerned. The second argument, of which my hon. Friend must be aware, is the letter sent by the Post Office to E.O.(T.) A. dated 26th November, 1945. This said: No definite figure has been laid down for general application as regards the minimum percentage of staff required for recognition. If I may go on quoting, this is of great importance: Unless and until it could be clearly shown that the existing union which has enjoyed recognition for many years no longer substantially represents particular grades it would be contrary to any ordered method of staff negotiation to grant official recognition to another association. That is what was told E.O.(T.) A. in 1945 and they could not think that the publication of the Listowel formula in any way changed the situation, because after that formula was published they were told all over again that 40 per cent. did not entitle them to automatic recognition. In fact, the phrase was used, "No precise rules were laid down."

Now I want to deal with the point raised just now by way of interruption, namely, what must be the overriding considerations which must guide the Post Office in recognising a break-away union. I hope I have made it clear that at no time was E.O.(T.) A. led to believe, either by the general Post Office procedure or in specific correspondence, that a 40 per cent. membership was all they needed before they could be accepted as a recognised union. On the contrary, it was made clear from the beginning and throughout all these negotiations that the exact opposite was the case.

So much for the relationship between E.O.(T.) A. and the Post Office. Now let us come to the point which is worrying my hon. Friends behind me. their own attitude to this question and the extent to which they feel themselves bound as a matter of political honour to a certain course of action. I have read and reread the debates in this House on the subject. I have examined carefully the statements made by the Conservative Party when in Opposition and never once, either in this House or anywhere else, have we as a party given a pledge that E.O.(T.) A. should receive automatic recognition on a membership percentage basis without consideration of any other factors. Never has that pledge been given. What. then, were the debates all about?

Mr. Pannell

Hear, hear.

Mr. Gammans

It is always unwise to cheer too soon. Hon. Members may have forgotten and, therefore, I will remind them.

The charge made in the debate against the then Government was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury himself in words which clarify the issue beyond any shadow of doubt. He made it quite clear why we went into the Lobby: We are not taking sides with anybody. I say that most emphatically. We are concerned to see fair play between two claims. Now the charge which the Conservative Party made at that time against the Government was that the then Postmaster-General was not unbiased. That was what the debate was about. To quote my hon. Friend again: We believe that he 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 702–4.]

Mr. Hobson

Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) has been more or less accused of bias in this matter when we were the party in power, would not the hon. Gentleman agree that my right hon. Friend proved that he was not biased insofar as he set up the Terrington Committee?

Mr. Gammans

I am coming to that. I was dealing with the point of my hon. Friends behind me, as to why, in those two debates, they divided the Committee. I know that what is concerning them is the feeling that they may have been bound by political honour to a certain course of action. It was because the then Postmaster-General was unable to satisfy the Conservative Party as to his impartiality that my hon. Friend forced a Division and he and I and a good few of my other hon. Friends went into the Lobby.

Mr. W. R. Williams

The charge, apparently, in the last part of the Minister's argument is that the decision before arose out of political considerations. Seeing that the same decision practically has now been arrived at, does this mean that the Assistant Postmaster-General now completely exonerates my right hon. Friend and his party of having dealt with the matter from political considerations?

Mr. Gammans

The hon. Member had better wait until I finish my speech.

Let me give one more quotation which, I hope, will prove that it was the question of impartiality which was at stake. My hon. Friend the Member for West-bury, in the Adjournment debate on 20th October, 1950, said: What the right hon. Gentleman has done in this case is to refuse to recognise a body under circumstances which appear—I put it no further than that—to arise from political prejudice.…When a union is a member of the Trades Union Congress and when its ex-secretary is a member of the Socialist Party and has boasted in the journal of the union that he can get the ear of his colleagues even when E.O.(T.) A. is being discussed, is anyone going to believe that the union, although it may not be officially affiliated, is not tied up with the Socialist Party? … It is asking for too much credulity to accept that. That is why I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it appears that he is coming to this decision from political prejudice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1950; Vol. 478. c. 2445–6.] If the then Postmaster-General had satisfied my right hon. Friend and the rest of us on that point, there would have been no Division. What, therefore, I have to do today is to satisfy my hon. Friends fully that the case of E.O.(T.) A. has now been considered with the impartiality which, rightly or wrongly, they did not believe existed before.

Mr. Pannell

They do not believe it now.

Mr. Gammans

I start with one advantage over my predecessor, at any rate for the purpose we are now discussing: that is that neither my noble Friend nor I have any connection with any trade union. The essential criterion which must guide us is to decide whether under the arrangement at present in force this particular grade of technical officer has or has not adequate machinery for representing the interests of the staff concerned and of bringing forward to the Post Office any grievances or any constructive ideas which they may have.

These technical officers are a very highly skilled and an extremely loyal body of men. They make an essential contribution to the telephone service, both in peace and in war. They have every reason to be proud of the specialised position that they hold, and they have problems which are peculiar to them. On the other hand, they are members of the general engineering staff of the Post Office. They work side by side with engineers with whom they share most common problems. Anyone who has ever had experience of trade union negotiations inside Government service or in private industry would, I think, agree on one thing: that it is undesirable, from the point of view both of the employer and of the employee, to try to negotiate with a multiplicity of unions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—especially when those unions represent men who are doing the same work and carry out their daily tasks together.

Sir H. Williams

I am chairman of a joint industrial council and from the beginning we have had two unions and we invite them together.

Mr. Gammans

I do not think that that vitiates the points I have made. I do not think that anyone with long experience of industry will disagree about the undesirability of a multiplicity of unions representing men who work side by side. It simply means that one union bids against another and it is very bad for the employer—perhaps even more so than for the employee. This was the problem which faced my noble Friend when he took office, and a distasteful problem it was. It was distasteful for the reason that the point at issue was not a dispute between the Post Office and its employees, but a dispute between two sections of staff. No employer, whether he be a Minister or a private employer, likes to be in that position.

As I have made clear to this House on several occasions, it is only in the last resort that a Minister or an employer would like to take a decision on a matter of that kind. For 18 months my noble Friend has been trying to see whether anything could be done and whether this matter could be settled between the unions themselves. These are the steps he has taken. He has awaited the evidence of the Terrington Committee, which his predecessor had set up, and which contained two employers' representatives, two such experienced trade unionists as Sir Lincoln Evans and Dame Florence Hancock, and an impartial chairman.

They recommended without hesitation that the interests of this grade of engineers would be best served not by the recognition of E.O.(T.) A., but by their continuing to be represented by the P.O.E.U. However, even this adjudication—a very powerful one—did not satisfy my noble Friend. He then tried discussions between the parties concerned, after seeing both sides. These broke down, so he decided to have one more try and, with the agreement of the Ministry of Labour, he asked Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts to act as a conciliator, with the consent of both parties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury rather suggested that Sir Richard had gone beyond his terms of reference and, therefore, I must clear that point. What Sir Richard did was first to report to my noble Friend that he had failed in his task of conciliation. Subsequently to that, he submitted a report in which he said, as the Terrington Committee had said, that E.O.(T.) A., in his opinion, could not be recognised. He specifically added that he considered—this is what we are worrying about—that he thought the best interests of the staff—about which my hon. Friends should be thinking—would be best served through membership of the P.O.E.U.

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

The point really is that when Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts, whom I know very well, was appointed as conciliator it was never disclosed to hon. Members in this party that he was to make any report, and to that I take very serious objection.

Mr. Gammans

I cannot see any conceivable objection to his making a report——

Miss Ward

It was very unwise to do so.

Mr. Gammans

He failed in his task, reported that he failed in his task, and then made this recommendation. I cannot see anything wrong in that; in fact. I am grateful to him for doing so.

Miss Ward

My hon. Friend may be.

Mr. Gammans

These protracted negotiations have produced what I hoped my hon. Friends would agree was a very marked advance on the situation compared with what it was when they and I voted on this matter three years ago. The P.O.E.U. are willing to amend their rules in a way which, as I said yesterday, I think is almost unprecedented in trade union practice. They have offered to arrange that no recommendation of a sectional committee could be overruled by the executive: council without a two-thirds, or even higher, majority. At present the grades which E.O.(T.) A. seeks to represent have themselves more than a two-thirds majority on that council.

Sir R. Grimston

Is that two-thirds majority required in the case of wages, conditions, holidays, etc.?

Mr. Gammans

We have not come down to direct negotiations on specific points, but on the general attitude they are willing to make it an even higher majority. So far as I can gather, on only one occasion in their history have the Executive Council of the P.O.E.U. ever overruled a sectional committee, and it was when they suggested that they had not asked for enough wages.

Let me try to summarise the position. I hope that I can satisfy my hon. Friends that they can go away for the Summer Recess with absolutely clear minds and consciences in this matter. First, there has never been in the Post Office any such thing as automatic recognition on a 40 per cent. basis. That fact has been made clear from the beginning to E.O.(T.) A.

When my hon. Friends—and 1—divided the Committee three years ago it was because they could not be satisfied that the issue was being judged and would be judged with complete impartiality. The vote they gave then has, in my opinion, achieved the object which they then had in view, namely, that this issue should be judged with impartiality. It led to the setting up of the Terrington Committee. It led, furthermore, to all the negotiations by my noble Friend that have gone on, and finally to the attempted conciliation by Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

Are we to take it the Terrington Report has been accepted by the Government not only as regards the specific recommendations regarding E.O.(T.) A. but its general intention of principles regarding the recognition of unions?

Mr. Gammans

My hon. Friend should not make that assumption. We are dealing only with E.O.(T.) A. My noble Friend has been guided by the recommendation of the Terrington Committee on this issue.

Mr. Harris

The Report is not accepted?

Mr. Gammans

Since that time not only has my noble Friend tried to resolve the difficulty himself; he has sought the help of these two impartial bodies, both of which gave him the same advice, namely, that E.O.(T.) A. should not be recognised.

Would any of my hon. Friends say that they are better judges or whether this union should or should not be recognised than the Terrington Committee or Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts? I do not know whether they will feel that they have superior knowledge on this subject but the Terrington Committee and Sir Richard have gone into this question, have interviewed both sides, and they both make the same recommendation.

Mr. W. R. Williams

On a point of order. Before four o'clock, I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you think it is fair that in this debate there should have been three speakers on the other side of the House and one on this side, on a matter which is of importance not only to both sides of the House but to persons outside? I should like to have your views about that, and, at the same time, record a strong protest against the conditions which have applied in the debate.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member should blame the clock, not me.

Mr. Gammans

Lastly, and this is what matters most, my noble Friend has taken this decision because he is advised, and he himself is convinced, that the interests of the men concerned would be best served, as things now are, by a continuance of the present arrangement. I hope that in the light of this decision all those concerned will seek means of reuniting those who have been divided by this unhappy controversy, and of furthering the best interests of a fine and loyal body of men.