§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)
Ten days ago, the day before the railway strike came to an end, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was good enough to agree to my suggestion that it would then be better to postpone a debate upon the railway situation. Such a debate, I felt—and I believe that he agreed with me—with the points of view of all the parties vigorously, and, indeed, combatively put forward, would have made conciliation much more difficult. In the result, that judgment was proved good by the decision that put an end to the strike on the very next day.
It is, of course, both inevitable and right that a matter of such vital importance to us all at this moment as our industrial relations should be discussed in the High Court of Parliament. I hope that today we shall be able to discuss it constructively and from the national point of view, so that our debate may tend to the improvement and not to the exacerbation of our industrial relations. For my own part, as Minister of Labour I have to remember that other customers are likely to come forward for conciliation and that, maybe, some of the old customers may come again.
I have tried, during these three and a half years, to deal with all the parties who have come along as fairly and justly as I can, and I must go on trying to earn —or, at any rate, to deserve—their confidence. I have to remember always that my task is not to give judgment but, if I can, to narrow the field of conflict and, by trying patiently to understand the best that I can find in all the cases that are put before me, to help towards a settlement—not to impose one; that is not my task. It is for that reason that in saying something, as I must, in a few moments, about some recent and some existing disputes I shall be trying not to pronounce a judgment—much less to indulge in violent criticism—but to see whether there are any lessons which we can draw and what those lessons are.
1510 Before I go into the details of any of these individual strikes I should like to make this point. Our attention—the attention of the public—is always, of course, vividly caught by the disputes where conciliation fails; but this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that over very wide areas indeed our industrial relations still, happily, remain good. Very little is heard of the industrial troubles that are settled peacefully, sometimes within the industries themselves, sometimes with the assistance of my Ministry's conciliation officers, both in the regions—so seldom given credit—and in headquarters. I think it is right, therefore, that as we look at the troubles which we have run into we should bear this in mind, so that we keep a fair and reasonable perspective.
I must now say a little about the dispute, which has ended, upon the railways. It is very difficult to discuss that stoppage without going into a long preliminary history of the negotiations which have gone on over a number of years in the industry, but that is an involved and intricate matter. Most of it has become tolerably familiar in the last month or two from broadcasting, from the newspapers and from other sources, so I hope that I can spare the House the detail and yet. at the same time, quite fairly put before it the salient features. That, anyhow, is what I wish to try to do.
The strike itself—the strike that has just ended—arose out of the determination of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, or A.S.L.E.F., as I shall call it, to maintain for footplate men differentials which it regarded as established by one of the two recent awards in the industry—that known as Award No. 16. That is the first of the two recent awards of the Railway Staff National Tribunal, which, under the agreed machinery in the railway industry, is the tribunal to which disputes are taken.
It is very important, in considering this affair, to bear in mind that the footplate men have members in both A.S.L.E.F. and the National Union of Railwaymen—say four-fifths in A.S.L.E.F. and one-fifth in the N.U.R.—and that while A.S.L.E.F. has no membership other than footplate men, the N.U.R. has members in almost all railway grades except those who are members of the T.S.S.A.
1511 In the railway industry, as in other industries in recent years, the increase in the basic rate for the lowest-paid worker has been proportionately higher than the increase for the higher grades. That is largely because it is among the lowest-paid workers that the cases of hardship have arisen, and have been seen to arise. But the very circumstance that that proportionate change has taken place has brought the difficult, vexed, question of differentials into high relief. Part of that problem still remains for consideration, although happily, it will now be considered in a strike-free atmosphere.
After Award No. 16 was made, negotiations took place between the British Transport Commission and the three railway unions over the whole field of the railway wages structure. The Commission subsequently made an offer which the N.U.R.—though it is only fair to say that it was not wholly satisfied with it—accepted for all grades, including the footplate men. That offer, in fact, meant an increase for all grades, including the footplate men, but though the footplate men—like the others were to get more, the cash differentials between them and the other grades were less than those provided by the earlier award.
In the result, the N.U.R., as I have said, was prepared to accept the offer for all grades, but A.S.L.E.F. decided—as it was fully entitled to decide—to take its case back to the Railway National Staff Tribunal. That tribunal heard the parties, and, in effect, it confirmed in its view the propriety of the offer which had been made.
Thereupon immediately, and, in fact, before either the Transport Commission or I had seen the award, A.S.L.E.F., whose executive happened to be sitting, gave strike notice. It is perfectly true that it had been through all the machinery provided by the negotiating machinery, and I am not saying that it could not lawfully withdraw its labour, but what I have always said to A.S.L.E.F.—and I must in honesty say it again today—is that I think that was precipitate action, particularly as it was throwing over an award of the railway industry's own tribunal. I feel that it would have been much wiser and much more reasonable to have approached the Commission or the Ministry or me to discuss the position before it issued strike notices.
1512 I attach great importance to a period of reflection and consideration before getting into an atmosphere of strikes and strike notices. Indeed, I think myself that it is very desirable that we should consider, no doubt with the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress, whether we cannot try to secure such a period of reflection whenever it is possible to do so.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that it is fair to say that A.S.L.E.F. had, several months before that, withheld a notice in the hope of getting a settlement?
§ Sir W. Monckton
I was dealing with the original strike notice which was issued. It is quite true that that was subsequently withdrawn in a sense. The union told its men to go back to work. But I do not think it affects the point which I was making, that directly the Union got the award it thought it proper to issue strike notice. I am saying that in the future I hope we shall all struggle to get a period of reflection and consideration before we get into that atmosphere.
The N.U.R. disapproved of the A.S.L.E.F threat to strike, as subsequently it disapproved of the strike itself. More than that, and more difficult from my point of view, the N.U.R. made it quite plain both to the Transport Commission and to me that if concessions were made in order to restore the differentials which A.S.L.E.F. wanted the N.U.R. would have wide and unspecified claims to present for consequential improvements in other grades. If this, in turn, had been conceded, A.S.L.E.F., which was concerned with the principle of maintaining differentials much more than with the comparatively small sums which were involved in its claims, would seek again to restore the differentials. In effect, at this stage the Commission was faced with the likelihood of a series of leapfrogging claims up an unending stairway.
The differences to which I have referred between the two unions are of long standing, and since I still hope that they will be resolved I am not going to discuss their details or their history; but they cannot be left out of account by anyone who is considering the strike. They still persist. Even when terms were arranged 1513 for a return to work I was unable to persuade A.S.L.E.F. to attend a joint meeting with the N.U.R. and the Commission at which those terms were going to be formally accepted.
When I realised the difficulty which was inherent in this feature of the dispute, I asked the Trades Union Congress General Purposes Committee for its help in trying to find a way out, and I must say that it gave help quite ungrudgingly. It did not succeed in bringing the two unions to a common approach but it did help, and particularly in two directions. First of all, it did a great deal to avert the strike threat, which was in the mind of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), and at the very end it materially assisted in the last stages of the talks before the strike was called off.
There is another thing which I must tell the House. Two days before the strike actually started, I proposed, with the full authority of the Government, a board of conciliation as a means of averting the strike. I proposed the board for this reason. The atmosphere at that stage between the Commission and A.S.L.E.F. was, if I may use a neutral term, clouded.
§ Sir W. Monckton
The clouds were, indeed, heavy and stormy.
I thought that if a conciliator sat in, it was more likely that negotiations would be resumed and would succeed. It is not a means of assistance that can be imposed on unwilling parties. I was suggesting it as a basis for resuming the negotiations with the strike threat off. But A.S.L.E.F. was not willing to accept it on that basis, and I knew that the Commission was not willing to enter into full negotiations under the pressure of the strike or under the pressure of a threat of a strike. Nothing, therefore, came of that offer, though it remained open if only the strike were called off.
There is plenty of room for misunderstanding between the board of conciliation which I proposed to the parties and the terms of the interim settlement which provided for a reference to Lord Justice Morris of some specific but limited questions. The appointment of Lord Justice Morris was for quite a different purpose, and arose in quite a different way. It 1514 happened like this. In the later stages of the discussions it became plain that the leapfrogging difficulties might be overcome by A.S.L.E.F. agreeing not to treat consequential improvements to other grades as a jumping-off ground for further claims by A.S.L.E.F. It was prepared to drop its claim for differentials for cleaners which would have had very wide consequential repercussions had it been persisted in.
It was already clear that the Commission, for its part, was prepared to give extra rewards for special skill and responsibility, but it was not prepared to discuss figures while the strike was on. As I pointed out, A.S.L.E.F. was not ready to call the strike off without the certainty of some figures.
It was at this stage that, to break the deadlock, the Commission, of its own volition, proposed the appointment by me of a person, if I may quote the description which the parties agreed,of impartiality, integrity, and acknowledged judgment.to supply the figures. This was accepted by A.S.L.E.F. No objection was raised by the N.U.R., and I had the good fortune to secure the appointment of Lord Justice Morris. He was not to take part in or to guide negotiations—nothing of the sort. He was not a conciliator or a board of conciliation. He was a referee for the limited purpose which the parties had agreed.
I must say that the appointment of Lord Justice Morris in that way is a fair illustration of the flexibility with which the conciliation procedure of the Ministry of Labour can be used if and when the parties are willing. It can be used either to stop a strike or to avoid it altogether. It took a long time in this case—much too long for the national interest—but I am sure the House will appreciate how difficult the task of the Ministry was.
The Commission, after all, was bound to consider, before it could conic to terms with A.S.L.E.F., what would be the repercussions with the N.U.R. and what would be the subsequent further claims by A.S.L.E.F. to restore the position. What was really wanted was to get all the unions concerned and the Transport Commission together. But everything that I could do to that end, and all the help which the T.U.C. so willingly gave me, did not succeed in 1515 persuading A.S.L.E.F. to sit down with the N.U.R. at any stage.
So there was, necessarily, a constant going and coming with indirect explanations and indirect discussions. This was, believe me, a great strain for all parties on time and patience. I should just like to say that I know that all the parties would agree with me that a tribute is due to the inexhaustible resource and understanding of the Chief Industrial Commissioner, who, from first to last, resolutely refused to give up hope or to give up trying.
There is one further point that I want to make about the board of conciliation proposal so that I may get things clear. I want it to be known, since it has been thought in some quarters that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his broadcast, was setting up some new doctrine, that I never ceased, nor was I ever required or invited by him to cease, from the discussions which I was continually engaged in with the parties to bring the strike to an end. As I have explained, and as I understood him to say in his broadcast, the board of conciliation proposal was made, and was made only on the footing that the strike was called off; but it did not stop me trying other methods when that offer was not found acceptable.
I should like to tell the House what I understand the duty of the Minister of Labour to be in such a case when a strike is threatened or when a strike actually takes place. It is the function of the Minister to try to find a basis upon which the parties can be brought together again and the strike or the strike threat removed. This involves him in getting in touch, as I have described in this instance, with all the parties concerned and, maybe, even in bringing them together in his Ministry as neutral ground.
In some cases, where the issues are simple, the basis reached at that stage may be enough to dispose of the whole matter, and no further negotiations and no further discussions may prove necessary, but in others, and, indeed, in my experience, in the majority of cases, the basis presents something upon which a strike can be called off and work can be resumed, but it leaves over other questions for subsequent negotiation, as it did in this instance.
1516 There is—it has been pointed out in this House—a distinction which ought to be drawn in relation to what I have just been saying between official and unofficial strikes. I think it is obvious that the Minister of Labour cannot deal with unofficial strikes in that way at all. In such circumstances it is a matter for the union concerned to re-establish its authority over its own members.
There remains one further point. If a strike takes place or is threatened, it is really for the employer to decide whether he is prepared to negotiate under the threat of the strike. He may or he may not wish to do so, but I do not think that the Government ought to persuade, compel or press him either way. That is the doctrine as I have tried to carry it out.
I want to say one word on this in relation to the nationalised industries, because they are, in a sense, special. The nationalised industries have these same questions, and I have—and we have—to remember that Parliament has charged the authorities, which are set up under the nationalisation Acts to manage these nationalised industries, with responsibilities for exercising the functions of management and has laid upon them a duty to seek to establish by agreement negotiating machinery which contains provision for reference to arbitration. Under the statutes which contain those provisions, the full authority and responsibility of the employer rests upon those who are charged with the management of the industry, and not, as is sometimes too readily assumed, directly upon the Government.
All that I have been saying about the rôle of the Government in these questions of industrial relations really applies as much to nationalised industries as to private industries. It is for the management of these industries to regulate their relations with their employees, though the Government services of assistance are just as available to them as they are to private industries. I believe that it would be dangerous to remove these questions of industrial relations from settlement within the nationalised industries. I am afraid that they might then become only the subject of Government direction, and might well become party political issues, and that I should deplore.
1517 I should like for a moment or two now to draw one or two conclusions, which I seem to see for myself from the story leading up to the settlement which I have unfolded to the House. I think we ought to appreciate that the Commission itself was at all times, before and during the strike, prepared to consider payments for higher skill and responsibility. The method by which it wanted to do it was one of mileage allowance. What it wanted, in effect, to do was to classify by the job actually done and not by qualification.
I must say that that approach has its attractions, but it had not when one was trying to settle the dispute because it was not acceptable to either of the unions concerned. However, the Commission was quite prepared to consider other proposals, and, indeed, in the end it is a different proposal which has been accepted, one quite different from the mileage allowance by itself.
All I would say is that if, as it appeared, what A.S.L.E.F. really wanted to do was to secure recognition of the principle of additional rewards for skill and responsibility, that was there for the asking. It did not need to strike to get that recognition. What it needed to strike for was to get the figures which it subsequently sought to get.
§ Mr. Collick
Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in error there. Surely the whole issue throughout the dispute was exactly that, which the Commission at that time would not accept.
§ Sir W. Monckton
What the Commission was not prepared to accept was the view that the differentials established in Award No. 16 were cash differentials which ought to be carried forward into No. 17. What I am saying can be put in a sentence. It is this: Did Award No. 16 establish differentials, or did it really lay down what were thought to be the proper sums to be paid to the various grades concerned in the award? Undoubtedly, what A.S.L.E.F. felt, and felt strongly, was that these differentials were cash differentials which had been established and ought to be maintained. I am only upon the point that if what it was after was the improvement of payments for skill and responsibility, and the method was left open, that was to be had without the strike.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Were there not, in addition to all this, two previous courts of inquiry which said most explicitly, and gave a warning, that these matters of differentials and incentives would have to be considered and attended to, for otherwise there would be trouble in the industry.
§ Sir W. Monckton
I do not think that anyone who is familiar with the railway industry and the discussions and negotiations over the years would doubt for a moment that the problem of differentials is a very difficult one and was bound to give rise to a great deal of difficulty and trouble. I have not sought to take the contrary view this afternoon. I still think it is difficult; but I am happy that the problems about differentials which still survive can now be discussed in a more peaceful atmosphere.
I now turn to the next conclusion that I want to make quite plain to the House. A.S.L.E.F. has from time to time been attacked and criticised, but I know that it is not a disruptive union, and much less is it a Communist-dominated union. It did not strike without going through the machinery—I hope I have made that plain—but there is, I think, this reflection which we ought all to consider now it is all over, with the wisdom that may come from hindsight. If one's agreed machinery does provide for arbitration, one may not be legally bound to accept the award, but I do think that one is under some moral obligation to accept it, or anyhow, not to strike immediately against it. One cannot mean, when one goes to arbitration, to do it with the intention of rejecting the decision unless it is in one's favour.
§ Mr. Collick
I am sorry to intervene again, but this is a tremendously important subject and, with the utmost respect, I say that the Minister has been making this error throughout the whole dispute. The Railway Staffs Tribunal is not an arbitration court, and never has been. I was in on all the negotiations which led up to this machinery and I know that never once has it been accepted as arbitration machinery. In fact, for years negotiations were held up just on the question whether or not decisions of the Railway Staffs Tribunal should be final and binding.
§ Sir W. Monckton
I readily give way to the hon. Member, who has not been 1519 without assistance to me in these matters. I think the distinction between us is what is meant by arbitration. What the hon. Member is really saying to me is that this machinery of the railway industry does not contain compulsory arbitration in the sense that either party is bound to accept the award. That I entirely accept—[AN HON. MEMBER: "It is purely advisory."]—but when one says it is purely advisory that is going too far the other way. What is in the machinery is recourse to a tribunal which sits in arbitration and comes out with a decision at the end of the day. The fact is—I have acknowledged it—that neither of the parties is bound to accept that decision.
All I say is that if one goes to an arbitration of any kind, although one is not bound to accept the award, one has to consider very carefully before one can say, "We turn it down out of hand." I do not say that they are under any legal obligation, but I think that it has been a feature of the arbitration machinery introduced into so much of industry today that, in practice, arbitration awards, although not compulsory, are, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred—with very few exceptions—accepted. I am sure that if we want our industrial relations happily carried forward the more arbitration that can take place, and the more the parties can accept it, the better for all of us. Otherwise, it becomes rather an empty form.
The next thing I want to say about this railway settlement is that we really must all welcome the interim settlement and the spirit in which, at the end of the day, the parties were able to come together. Until it was reached the prospect of leapfrogging up an unending staircase, which I have been discussing, prevented one hoping for a reasonable or conclusive settlement. Now there can be negotiations without that obstacle. What is required now is that the Transport Commission and all three unions should meet in a strike-free atmosphere, one much more harmonious than the atmosphere has sometimes been in these last months. That is just what is happening, and I am very glad to see it.
I have said what I want to say about the railway dispute. I want also to say 1520 a word or two about the dock strike. The dock strike has this in common with the railway stoppage. There is involved—in this case at the very root of it—a conflict between unions. It is in no way concerned with economic policy; it is not a claim for more money or a claim for better conditions. It is a claim by one union, resisted by the other, for recognition by the employers in the joint negotiating machinery.
The Stevedores' Union—the "Blue Union"—for many years past had a share in the joint machinery in London but, until last autumn, it had no membership on Merseyside, or anywhere outside London. For many years up to then the only union with membership in ports outside London affected by the present dispute was the Transport and General Workers' Union—known as the "White Union."
From last October onwards the "Blue Union" started recruiting members on Merseyside and elsewhere. It was alleged—I am not seeking to judge with what foundation—that it obtained those members by poaching from the "White Union" and, to get them, promised to make much higher claims than those put forward by the "White Union." The line which the port employers took is a very familiar one—that the representation of the workers was a matter for the workers' side of the negotiating machinery. So it was that in the case of the ports I have mentioned outside London the "White Union" did the representation.
Once again—I am very glad to do it—I have to acknowledge the help which the Trades Union Congress has sought to give in bringing concord to the two unions. Of course, it is not for the T.U.C. to stipulate which union shall be represented on the workers' side of the negotiating machinery. It is always very careful to say that it does not want to have anything to do with that.
A feature of both these stoppages in the docks, and in some others, has been the readiness of the T.U.C. to lend its help towards bringing the difficulties to an end, difficulties which arise from one of two causes. They arise from inter-union disagreement or from cases where a strike or threatened strike will throw 1521 other trade union members into unemployment. There is no doubt about the genuineness of my acknowledgement of the help I have received.
I said that there have been two strikes in recent months in the docks. Last October, there was one on the question whether overtime should be compulsory or voluntary. It was tiresome and difficult, because everyone agreed that some overtime was a practical necessity and it could quite easily be arranged. This strike—essentially an inter-union conflict about representation on the joint negotiating machinery—and the other strike, were nothing to do with wages or conditions, but they did involve, and are involving, a grave loss to our economy.
The present stoppage is now in its fifth week. All I can say at this stage is that I very much hope that the meeting of the Disputes Committee of the T.U.C., which is fixed for tomorrow, may show the way to a solution of the problem and that the men will soon be back at work. Even though the T.U.C. Disputes Committee will not touch the direct question of representation, if, by any means, it can bring the unions themselves to an understanding the dispute to that extent will be greatly simplified.
Perhaps I ought to mention here that in the last Parliament I announced that I had taken the decision, after consultation with the port employers and the unions involved, to set up a committee to inquire into the working of the Dock Labour Scheme. The setting up of that committee has been delayed only because of the existence of the present dispute. When the dispute is out of the way we can go on with it.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree, in relation to what we read in the Tory Press, that this stoppage has been caused, not by the big trade union—what is called the unwieldy union—but by a small trade union which cannot find leaders to control it?
§ Sir W. Monckton
I have been rather anxious not to criticise too directly the participants in these disputes and I certainly do not want to go into that one. I can only say that I have read, because I have the advantage of reading, the Press on both sides of this matter—I might say of all sides—
§ Sir W. Monckton
Perhaps it would be better if I read neither, but my task makes me read both. I do not want to go into the merits of the dispute, which, I hope, is coming to an end.
There is a further existing strike about which I must say something—the shipping strike. That is a wholly unofficial strike. The National Union of Seamen is continuing to do everything it can to get the men back to work. I must make it clear to the House—I do not need to make it clear to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who is to speak after me in the debate—that it is impossible for the Minister of Labour to intervene between a union and its members on unofficial strike I can only hope very much that nothing will be said in the course of this debate which will make it harder for the men to take the advice which their union leaders are giving them to go back to work.
I know that there has been criticism of the action of calling up some of these men who were on strike. I must say this much about it. It happens that a great number of them are young men of the 18 to 26 age group, which is an important element, and they have been notified of their liability for call-up in these circumstances.
In taking part in the unofficial strike, the men who have been called up—not called up, in fact, but notified of their liability—broke their articles of service and withdrew their labour during the currency of their contract. They also failed to report for other duty and thereupon it was reported to my Ministry, through the usual channels, that they had left their employment as merchant seamen.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I want to try to understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying on this very important point. In his last two or three sentences, he has said that because it was an unofficial strike the men had broken their articles and their service, and so on.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am obliged. It was exactly that point that I wanted to clear up. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that—[Horn. MEMBERS: "No."]—he was surely saying something which would not be accurate.
§ Sir W. Monckton
I do not think I said that. If I gave that impression, my answer is that I certainly never intended it. If a man, as is so often said in the service, jumps his ship, he has withdrawn his labour without giving whatever notice is appropriate; he has broken his articles, we are notified of him, and we call him up at once.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Supposing it had been an official strike, would the same procedure have been adopted and these men called up?
§ Sir W. Monckton
That is a question I cannot possibly answer, for this reason. What has to happen before these men are notified by the Ministry of Labour that they are liable to call-up is that the people who are responsible for maintaining the Register of Merchant Seamen have to say to us, "These men are off the Register." When they are off the Register, there is no question but that I call them up, whether they are off because they have jumped a ship singly, together, or in another way.
If I am still subject to criticism on this matter, I must be allowed, I hope, to take a little comfort from what the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, who is himself a member of the T.U.C. General Council, said about this yesterday. When he was asked about the call-up notices to strikers, he said:We never regarded this as abnormal. The establishment are duty bound, in accordance with the regulations covering deferment, to report men to the appropriate Ministry between the ages of 18 and 26 who miss their ship, fail to carry out their contracts or fail to report to the establishment at the appointed time.He went on to say that he had given them a warning, and went on:These men have been constantly advised by the union not to break their contract of service and certainly not to get in wrong with the Merchant Shipping Act by failure to join their vessel or by the more serious offence of disobeying the lawful command of the Master.He finished by saying:Reporting these men for call-up has been the normal machinery throughout this industry before the unofficial dispute.1524 If I have erred in this, it would appear to me as though I have erred in fairly good company.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I have in front of me the letter which one of these men received from the Merchant Navy Establishment Administration pointing out that he was regarded as having broken his contract; that was dated 15th June. I have the call-up notice of the Ministry of Labour to the same man dated 17th June. Is that the normal practice?
§ Sir W. Monckton
Yes. What I am anxious to make clear to the House is that whenever we find somebody who is either off the Register, or, if he is deferred because of some other employment, no longer in that employment, we act at once, and for this reason: that if we do not act at once, we will not find the man.
I have dealt, because I thought it was my duty to deal, with some of the disputes which have made difficulties in our industrial relations in these last months. My time and, I am sure, the time of some of the members of the General Purposes Committee of the T.U.C., has necessarily been very fully taken up in these last weeks with these strikes about which I have been speaking; but I should like to say a few words more generally about our industrial difficulties.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaving the question of seamen? I think the public would be very surprised and bewildered by the complaints about the conditions of these men. I have been to many ships, but have never visited their quarters. Has the Ministry sent anybody along to consider the conditions in which these men live?
§ Sir W. Monckton
The Ministry of Labour has many tasks, but I do not think that the inspection of ships and their adequacy is one for us. I remind the hon. Member of this: It is quite clear that the union authorities have said that they are quite prepared to look into and to present the cases of hardship or difficulty which may be put before them, not if they are presented by an unofficial strike committee, but if they come up through the normal channels of the trade union through its branches. Indeed, the 1525 union itself is on some of these matters already in negotiation with the ship-owners.
On the more general front, I am quite satisfied that responsible leaders of the trade union movement are just as much troubled as I am, and, indeed, the Government are, by increasing signs of irresponsibility in industry. I am equally sure that we ought not to embark upon any measures intended to deal with this problem without first having full consultation with the T.U.C., with the British Employers' Confederation and with the nationalised industries.
I am not ruling out in advance any solution or partial solution of our difficulties which may be suggested. After all, this is a national problem. We do not intend to pursue it on a party basis, and I want the Government to carry with them as far as they possibly can the support of men of good will inside the trade union movement and outside it.
A number of suggestions have been made. It has been suggested by many—and I have seen it in newspapers—that a secret ballot of members of a trade union should be required before strike action is taken. There may be attractions about that method, but it is well to remember that such a provision would have no impact upon unofficial strikes. It would not affect lawful obstruction by going slow or working to rule, and one would certainly have to reflect that if a strike had been authorised by ballot it might be more difficult for negotiators to settle on compromise terms.
Another suggestion has been, in effect, the outlawry of unofficial strikes. It is sufficient to say—I am not discussing the merits but merely show that I have not overlooked these points—that that would obviously raise difficult questions both of penalties and of enforcement which would have to be carefully considered.
As to compulsory arbitration, that is a solution which seems to impinge upon the right to strike. It is, anyhow, a difficult solution to accept lightly. These and other suggestions, such as an inquiry into the whole system of industrial relations, ought not to be lightly accepted or lightly rejected. I certainly have no wish to commit myself to any line of policy in advance of the consultations which my right hon. Friend the Prime 1526 Minister and I have already undertaken with the T.U.C. and the British Employers' Confederation. We shall do our best to get the utmost benefit from these consultations and from the debate which takes place in this House today. When consultations are taking place and a debate is to be held, I do not think that it is wise to close one's mind and find one's conclusions.
There is one reflection which I should like to permit myself even at this stage. I am sure that what really is wanted is an upsurge of feeling of responsibility towards our people as a whole, of the idea that we work not for ourselves alone but for the good of the country and all who live in it. We cannot legislate for that feeling of responsibility.
If the House will permit me a moment longer, I should like to say that I had, last Friday, an opportunity of speaking in Geneva at the International Labour Conference on the question of labour—management relations. I will not weary right hon. and hon. Members by repeating my words, but what I was trying to say was the fruit of more than three and a half years' experience in this office. I spoke about industrial relations and human relations, and I am quite certain of this: our industrial relations will never really and ultimately prosper unless they are based on sound human relations. That is the core of the whole matter.
The main object of all of us should be to create confidence between management and workpeople—a confidence which allows men to work together with understanding and a common approach towards the problems of industry. I tried to point out in Geneva, and I should like to point out in the House today, that we must all realise that a man brings more to his work in his factory than the work of his hands. He brings there a part of his life, and he ought to be able to enjoy rights and satisfactions in that working life, just as he does in his life as a citizen.
I tried to set out what I believe to be the basic elements necessary to the establishment of good human relations. For my present purpose, I want to mention only one. That is the imponderable element which involves the recognition of the human factor as of outstanding importance. The policy of managements ought, I think, to be based on the recognition of this fact—that a man is not a 1527 tool, he is not a machine, but is a complex human personality. They ought to be quite clear that the recognition of this fact is the aim of their human relations policy, and they must make it known to their employees.
This is the way in which leadership can be given, and the people can be made conscious of the leadership. I know that over a wide area this policy is accepted and it has operated effectively, but I want the aim to be to make it universal throughout industry. That requires two things. It requires good will and leadership on the part of management and full co-operation on the part of organised labour. If we can travel along this road, I think we can reasonably hope that more responsible counsels in industrial relations will prevail in the end, and that the disruptive elements in industry, which now exercise an influence quite out of proportion to their numbers or the merits of their doctrine, will steadily diminish.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
The House has listened with great care and rapt attention to the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made. I know that we are all very grateful to him for his detailed review of the railway dispute and his summary of the other disputes to which he referred. What he said will be most helpful to all of us in making our contributions to this debate.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had, during the past three and a half years, as Minister of Labour, tried to do his job fairly and justly to all parties to a dispute. May I tell him, as one who served for a short time in the office which he now occupies, that I have never heard anyone on this side of the House or, indeed, on the other side, or any trade union official, either national or local, who would not say to him that he had done his job in just that way? I pay my own personal tribute to the way in which he has conducted his very difficult office over these past three and a half years. I hope that his health and strength will not fail him as they have done on previous occasions owing to the great strain to which he has been subjected.
No one should under-estimate the importance of this debate today. It may 1528 not have the keenness of, or be as flashing as, many of the debates that have taken place in the House, but I think that this question of industrial relations is perhaps the most important thing to which the House can possibly turn its attention. Our economic position is balanced on a razor edge. We have no fat upon which to live. An adverse turn in the terms of trade, a slackening of over-all production, a sharp turn-down in our exports, and we may find ourselves in this country in a very desperate condition indeed.
In the normal course of competition for world markets, we are faced now, and shall be continuously faced in the next two decades at least, with the most intensive competition in our industrial history. We shall find it hard enough to maintain our position in world trade, without increasing our burden by the disturbance of industrial peace at home. We shall have a great battle for world markets.
The expanding world market is not expanding at a rate fast enough to absorb our industrial potential capacity. The U.S.A., Germany, Japan and our own country are all today moving very quickly into a situation in which, because the world market is not expanding as rapidly as production, we shall have very great difficulty indeed in preserving our position in world trade. Therefore it is important that we should apply ourselves to industrial peace, because the disputes to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, namely, those on the railways and in the docks, will have cost this country very dearly in its trade and in its financial position.
At the same time, I think that we must keep the question of industrial disputes in its proper perspective. Do not let us be alarmist and give people the impression that industrial unrest is rife in this country. It is not. Let us take pride in some facts of these last years. I believe that the turn for the better came when dear old Ernest Bevin became Minister of Labour during the war. There began a change in the association between management and man which has gone on since then, and it has meant that, despite the strikes which we have had, we have lost fewer days in industrial disputes than in pre-war years.
If hon. Members will look at the Digest of Statistics and examine the 1529 number of days lost immediately after the First World War, they will be staggered to realise that the country could have existed despite such industrial unrest. The figure today of about 2 million days lost is insignificant compared with the number lost in that period. But however insignificant it may be, it is nonetheless important to keep the figure down as near to zero as we possibly can.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman paid the tribute he did to the Trades Union Congress. It was well deserved. Members of the Council of the T.U.C. have worked hard and unrelentingly towards creating better understanding in industry, and they have assisted the country by so doing. They have helped the Minister of Labour in his work in trying to bring the parties to disputes together.
I am glad that in this respect, too, a great change has occurred, as we see if we contrast what happens now with what happened before the war. Then the atmosphere was one of conflict, and the T.U.C. found little opportunity to act in the way in which it has been able to act, with successive Governments, during the war and since the war.
I believe that the spirit of conflict must give way to the spirit of the conference table. It is of no use here, in the House, or at the United Nations to talk about peace among the nations of the world, and about international disputes being easily settled by four-Power talks or other conferences, if we in this country cannot settle our own domestic issues here, where we have one citizenship. It must be the aim and object of all of us in all parts of the House to bring about a situation in which the most severe differences of opinion between workers and management can merge and be settled around the conference table, rather than that the men, management, and the nation should be involved in industrial unrest and disputes which pay no dividends to anybody.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in that remarkable peroration, which received great applause from this side of the House—not too much from his own supporters—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] —I am sorry to say—said that an upsurge of responsibility was wanted. I agree 1530 with him. He also said that it was important to have good relations between the two parties in industry. My view is that there are not two parties in these modern days, but that there are three—management, the workers, and the Government.
A grave and heavy responsibility lies upon the Government, of whatever party the Government may be, and the Government's task is to create the right kind of climate in which industrial responsibility can thrive. I regret to say that it is my view that in that task this Government have signally failed. I am sorry for the Minister of Labour. He has the hardest task of all, because he has to deal with these most difficult problems day after day without being responsible for Government policy.
§ Mr. Robens
I say the Government have failed, and have failed to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman what he so properly wants to see, an upsurge of responsibility. I say that because they have acted irresponsibly in these last three and a half years.
It may be a fair point to make that we have had a General Election and that the policy of the Government has been approved by the people, and that the party opposite has been returned as the Government again. It may be the case, but the irresponsibility of the Government is still there, and that is certainly in the minds of the millions of workers of this country, who may, in part, have voted for the Government, though I think that the larger part of them probably voted for the party on this side of the House.
The Conservative Government have deliberately followed the policy of introducing Conservative freedom, which is really laissez-faire. In other words, we return to the old law of supply and demand. Is it not understandable that on every hand the workers, who can read the newspapers and see profits soaring and the way in which freedom has worked, and who note the absence of price controls and to what levels a scarcity market has brought prices, should say, "Very well, if that is to be the position, then while there is a shortage of labour we had better take our opportunity, and we had better take it 1531 now, because, under this system of the law of supply and demand, if labour ever becomes plentiful we shall be less in demand and our pay and resources will then be less"? Are they not entitled to say that?
With great respect to the Prime Minister, I feel that he has taken away the security which the majority of the workers of this country felt they had.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury) rose—
§ Mr. Robens
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman at this stage, but I will do so later.
The investors have done very well indeed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too well."] One need refer only to the columns of the "Financial Times" to make for oneself such assessments as that £1,000 invested 12 months ago is worth £1,400 tax-free today.
§ Mr. Robens
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman this. There are many workers who get only £400 a year after working hard for 52 weeks, and it is not meaningless to them when they see that somebody can get £400 for doing nothing more than write out a cheque. It is no use saying it is meaningless. It may be meaningless to theorists, to people whose minds work along rather higher lines than those, probably, of the ordinary workers, but what the ordinary worker knows is that if he had money invested he would do better for himself financially than by working.
§ Mr. Summers rose—
§ Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North) rose—
§ Mr. Robens
Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem unable to agree between themselves who shall have the opportunity to intervene if I give way. As I do not want to cause a quarrel, I think I had better continue. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this part of what I have to say.
A former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), in a speech in the House last week, said that…holders of ordinary shares must have gained in 15 months the tremendous sum of 1532 about £5,000 million in the value of their property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 771.]It is this inflationary atmosphere throughout the country which, in my view, has given rise to the irresponsibility instead of the surge of responsibility which the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants, as we all do. Therefore, the Government must accept some responsibility for the way in which they have callously freed the economy in such a way as to make it much more difficult psychologically for the workers whose labour is in short supply to accept the advice of their trade union leaders and the request of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to exercise restraint.
Therefore, I say there are these three parties in industrial relations nowadays, the Government, the workers, and management, and, in my view, the Government have failed to create the climate in which responsibility can grow.
§ Mr. Summers
What the right hon. Gentleman is really saying is that these ideas to which he has referred are the origin of a strike for a union's recognition in the docks. He knows quite well that they have nothing whatever to do with it.
§ Mr. Robens
I am doing nothing of the kind. I am not even entering into the merits of any of the strikes. Strikes take place because of a wave of feeling that if there is a strike it does not matter. The cause of that is the mental atmosphere which has been created, and the atmosphere which has been created has given rise to the idea that to get rich quick is much more important than to give service to one's fellow men.
I am very glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman turned down the idea of legislation on the question of strikes and ballots. If he did not say specifically that there was no intention of legislation, at least I took it that his thoughts were not running along those lines at present. I agree that legislation would be extremely difficult. It would not solve the problem. Order No. 1305 had to go, because one cannot take 10,000 men to a law court, and one would not prevent a bunch of men walking out on a job because there was to be a £5 fine.
We shall stop industrial disputes and unofficial strikes when we have secured amongst the workers a recognition of the sanctity of agreements entered into 1533 by their trade unions on their behalf. Whilst the right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously would not want to go into the merits or demerits of one union taking the members of another, I have read in the Press and have heard people say, "Why should not people join any union they like and even poach other people's members?" That is anarchy, and would do greater disservice to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Department than anything else. It should not be encouraged.
The Minister gave us a very careful review of the railway strike, and I do not think that I ought to enter into any of the details of it. I am sorry that the formula which finally brought peace was not acceptable 17 days earlier. I only want to clear up what was obviously a misunderstanding between the Prime Minister and myself in the House last week when I indicated to him that, whatever was his own understanding of his own words, it was certainly the case that in the country the understanding of the words of his broadcast was that there could be no negotiations until the men returned to work.
The Prime Minister will remember that I asked whether that was a new doctrine. I think he explained that it was not a new doctrine and that he was referring only to a specific matter, which was the working of a board of conciliation. I am sure, however, that if the right hon. Gentleman has looked through the Press of the day after his broadcast he will have seen that, without exception, every newspaper took the view which I indicated to him. I think that the Prime Minister's broadcast was inadvisable and a great mistake, and I believe that it delayed negotiations for three days. I am sorry to say that, but that is my view.
The right hon. Gentleman was not the only person who said that there were to be no negotiations without a return to work, or gave that impression. So did Sir Brian Robertson. The "Manchester Guardian," whose reporting is highly reputable, said, on 7th June:The executive of A.S.L.E.F. said it could not accept the suggestion—by the Prime Minister and by Sir Brian Robertson, chairman of the Transport Commission—that the strike should be called off before negotiations begin.The chairman of the Trades Union Congress thought the same thing. It was 1534 reported in the "Daily Mirror" of 6th June that,After the Prime Minister's broadcast, Mr. Charles Geddes, president of the Trades Union Congress, said: I have one personal regret—Sir Anthony's insistence that before talks can start the strike must end.'I mention this—and I have many other quotations—merely to say to the Prime Minister that when this matter was raised in the House it was not meant to embarrass him or to make the strike issue more difficult but to give him an opportunity of explaining that what people believed he had said was not what he thought he had said or had intended to say.
I do not want to go into the merits or demerits of the seamen's strike. I regard it as quite unpardonable that men should break an agreement anyway when, within the terms of that agreement, there is plenty of opportunity for giving vent to legitimate grievances and having them settled. Agreements are something sacred, entered into fairly and honestly by workers and management, and they should be kept. That must be the basic principle of the Trade Union movement as well as of those who sign agreements on the other side.
To return to the atmosphere which has been created, the Minister of Labour must understand that the call-up notices have caused a kind of feeling among the rank and file in the Trade Union movement that the conscription weapon is to be used against them if they go on unofficial strike. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made it clear that that is not his idea and that this is a matter of machinery. The machinery is interesting, because all that the Minister of Labour does is to call up people whom he is entitled to call up. If people are taken off a certain register and cease to be seamen the Minister must call them up. But who takes them off the register? It is the employers of the men who are on strike. Therefore, in effect it is the employers of the men who are on strike who compel the right hon. and learned Gentleman to issue call-up notices.
I feel bound to mention another point. I know that the Minister is a highly efficient Minister, but my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) said something which was remarkable a little while ago. He said that he had in his possession 1535 two letters, one dated 15th June informing a seaman that he was to be taken off the register and one dated 17th June from the Ministry of Labour stating that the man was to be called up. I know that we have a highly efficient telegraph and postal service but I have never known it work as quickly as all that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at Knutsford anyway."] There was not time for the ordinary postal communications to work. In those circumstances there is a feeling among the rank and file that a piece of legislation which was designed for a specific purpose has been used for another purpose entirely. Our minds are fresh with the arguments about Crichel Down and the using of legislation for a purpose for which it was never intended originally. It is a basic, cardinal principle in the House that, when we are legislating, our Bills must deal with the things for which they are intended and must be debated on that basis, and we must never at any time use them for another purpose merely because they happen to fit.
I remember that when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power pressure was brought to bear upon us during the petrol-rationing days to refuse a petrol allocation to certain people because they were using it for a purpose which perhaps was not strictly along the moral lines for which it should have been used. But petrol rationing was never intended to be used for that purpose and my right hon. Friend and I resisted the pressure.
We should use Acts of Parliament and powers given by the House only for the purposes for which they were designed, and on the basis on which they were debated, and at no time for any other purpose. It may be an absolute coincidence that the machinery laid down worked speedily because it was highly efficient in this instance.
I know that Tom Yates, the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, and Percy Knight, his assistant, have done more for the catering class of workers on ships in the last few years than has ever been done for them before. Those workers' standards and wages have been improved. Agreements have been secured for them, and if they have legitimate grievances their union is there to deal with them. They have the right to 1536 raise those grievances, and it is completely unpardonable to inconvenience the travelling public and walk off ships and make it difficult for other people.
Anyone who reads the agreements can see that there is plenty of opportunity to ventilate grievances and have them properly attended to. I have enough faith in Tom Yates and Percy Knight to know that, whatever grievances these people had, they would deal with them effectively and efficiently.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Is it not a fact that the National Union of Seamen is fully represented on the pool for establishment, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred as the employers who took them off the register?
§ Mr. Robens
I understand that the employers have the last word on Establishment Administration. That is my understanding of the position, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members will refer to the exact position later on.
If the Government will now look again at their general policy, give a better impression to the country about a fairer distribution of the national wealth, and create the right climate, I think that our prospects of industrial peace are good. We will help all we can to promote industrial peace, because it is a good thing for the nation that it should be in a position in which industry can move along slowly year by year increasing our national wealth and well-being.
The Minister was quite right; it is human relations that matter so much in this question—the right kind of man in authority over others. Men are not even going to be talked to in the way in which they could be instructed and pushed around 20 years ago. They are more mature. They expect to be treated as human beings and as individuals with intelligence, and they are entitled to be so treated.
One of the great problems is that the line of communication in large industry does not go all the way from boardroom policy down to the worker on the shop floor, and the same applies in large trade unions. When first-class agreements and arrangements on behalf of their members are nationally negotiated, they are very often completely unknown to many of the 1537 rank and file. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about that?"] An hon. Gentleman asks "What about that?" The answer is that the responsibility is that of the individual.
There is no such thing as a union except as a legal entity. The union is the thousands of men and women who are its members, who pay their dues and whose job, in my view, is to go to their branch meetings once a month and find out what is happening. A union is not a lifeless, inanimate body; it is a live, pulsating body of human beings, and the workers of this country would be well advised to attend to their industrial business by looking at union affairs. If they have any quarrel with the union, they should have a look at the rules of the union and see what they can do about them.
This is a free country and we are a practising democracy, and it is right that those in authority over us, whether elected—as we are in this House—or appointed in any other way, shall be answerable to the people who put them in the position in which they find themselves.
The right atmosphere needs to be created, not only amongst the workers, on the sanctity of agreements, but there must be much more speedy consideration of grievances. Time and time again one hears of an industrial dispute breaking out into industrial strife. For what reason? None, I think, but the fact that the grievance of the men has not been attended to, and has gone on for months and months, until the fellows say, "Well, let us get out, and we will settle it." Very often it is settled more quickly, which is the tragedy. Therefore, both the trade unions and management have to get down to this question of a much more speedy settlement of negotiations and grievances.
The millions of ordinary men and women working in industry today do not want to be captains of industry. They are not envious of the boss's Rolls-Royce. What they want is a happy and contented life. They want a regular job, and they want enough pay so that they can keep their families in decency and comfort but not luxury. Many hon. Members in this House have in their own homes electrical appliances which they regard as necessities, but the workers for whom I speak do not even think of them in terms of luxuries.
1538 I am speaking of millions of ordinary men and women who work hard, who are decent citizens and want to do the right thing. I have an abiding faith in these people, for they are good people. They are the backbone of this nation, because they are the great reservoir of skilled men and women who, when called upon, can do great things, as was shown during the war.
Therefore, it is our job and the job of the Government to bring about a new sense of responsibility by thus recognising that these millions of ordinary people are asking, not for great things, but only for the ordinary things of life, so that they can live in peace and contentment without the nagging and irksomeness of many of the things that affect their lives today. I believe that, if we can have a new look at industrial relations, if a new spirit can be initiated by this Government, and if we work hard, the workers will respond, we shall see the figures of industrial disputes grow less and less, and we shall be the envy of the world.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I hope that the House will bear with me and extend to me the indulgence which is usually afforded to an hon. Member making his maiden speech.
I intervene in this debate to make a few, and only a few, observations on this very wide and important subject of industrial relations. While I admit that I do not possess the knowledge and experience of many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House, I consider that, with the number of years which I have spent on the workshop floor, plus my years of experience as a union branch officer, I have at least a small idea of some of the problems with which the Trade Union movement and industrial relations generally in the nation are faced at present.
I would say that, as a very keen member of a trade union who does not sit on the other side of the House, I hope it will not be thought controversial if I try to deal with one or two points which I think affect all trade unionists regardless of political party. I think it is very important that we should consider this whole problem in its proper context—in its industrial context, rather than in any other.
1539 Therefore, I maintain that, when we look at the problems in industrial relations, we trade unionists must certainly consider and reconsider some of the basic problems and be prepared to adapt ourselves to certain changed conditions. For instance, tactics which were employed by us in periods of under-employment cannot possibly operate in the same way in the periods of full employment like those which we have now enjoyed for a number of years.
We have seen from recent strikes that action which has been taken by sections of trade unionists has resulted directly in short-time working and the dole for fellow-workers in either their own industry or in some other industry. We have seen such action cause hardship and higher costs to the consumer. A far more important thing which we must consider is the inevitable reduction in the possibility of enjoying full employment in the future.
I maintain that, while we were probably justified in maintaining such tactics when there was under-employment and the employer had the whip hand, and we had to exert force to secure justice, we must now consider the changed position. Today the employer is also justified in arguing that the whip has changed hands.
Everyone is aware that with power goes responsibility. We cannot divorce one from the other. If we are not prepared to use our responsibility properly then we are likely to lose our power in one of two ways. Either we shall lose it through public opinion becoming so aroused that action will have to be taken against us; or we shall find that we are suffering unemployment because by the actions taken by ourselves we are pricing ourselves out of world markets. That is something to which we as trade unionists have to address ourselves.
With many other people, I feel that the General Council of the Trades Union Congress has done a splendid job and is continuing to do a splendid job in intervening where problems are proving insurmountable, particularly in inter-union disputes or disputes between members and their union executive. But it has got to go further even than it is going, particularly on the question of inter-union disputes.
1540 It is morally wrong that industry and the consumer should suffer because, as trade unionists, we forget the basic principle of our common brotherhood. That is what is happening in many cases. We must discharge our responsibility, because if we do not we are going to have the power taken away from us in one way or the other.
One of the biggest problems facing us, particularly during this period of full employment, is the fact that there are not enough members of trade unions who are trade unionists. There are far too many members of trade unions who are purely card members. They do not know what their trade union is aiming at, and they tend to adopt a completely selfish attitude and take action which is not in the interests either of the members of their own industry or, in the long run, their own interests, because it reacts against them.
Naturally these card members do not attend branch meetings, and they make it possible for a very small number—it is a very small number, though some people tend to enlarge it—of people to use the Trade Union movement for their own questionable purposes, which are definitely not in the interests of the movement as a whole. We who are members of trade unions and who understand what trade unionism stands for have a great deal to do in educating our fellow members as to what we are aiming at and where we want to go.
Some will say that our basic problems result from a change in Government. But I would remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that these problems are not new. They have been with us since the end of the war, and if we do not tackle them realistically we shall be justly accused of trying to find excuses for not doing the job which is ours and ours alone.
As a movement we ourselves are responsible for some of the problems facing us. For instance, the wage differential problem affects us not only in the railway industry but in many other industries, and it has been aggravated to a large extent by applying for all-round increases of pay, regardless of the skill and efficiency of particular sections of an industry. By these applications we make the burden far worse. It is important that we should understand exactly what the true position is.
1541 Inter-union disputes would not have happened if we had paid more attention and taken firmer action on the question of poaching, which we have ignored for many years. We have also ignored the tendency of some organisations to force through sole negotiating rights against the interests of others. Here are two problems on which we should have taken action, because had we done so earlier some of the consequences would never have arisen.
Trade unions, the machinery for trades disputes, and so on, are with us to stay. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. We have established machinery now whereby both sides of industry, through proper negotiations, can sustain themselves and this nation at a higher standard of life. But we can be far more effective in the common interests if we are prepared, as a very powerful body—and let us make no mistake about that—to, face up to our responsibilities and if we are prepared to make the necessary changes not only in our organisations but in our basic thinking.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
On me devolves the very pleasant duty of congratulating the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) on his maiden speech, and I can assure him that I find it a very pleasing duty. We have all had the difficult experience of speaking for the first time in this House. It is always a nervous task, and the hon. Member has shown that in this debate today, which has been rightly described by the right hon. Gentleman for Blyth (Mr. Robens) as one of the most important topics which this House can discuss, he was able to overcome any fears he may have had on that score. He has chosen a day for his maiden speech when, quite obviously, he can speak from experience, but what admired even more, as I am sure all hon. Members did, was the confidence with which he spoke. We realise how nervous this tremendous moment can make any new Member, and we congratulate the hon. Member and look forward to hearing him on many other occasions.
I want now to join with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Blyth about the Minister. We are indeed fortunate in having in the right hon. and learned Gentleman a Minister of great 1542 ability, integrity, and broad, human sympathy. He has given immeasurable service in these difficult times and we are deeply grateful to him for placing his great qualities at the service of the country. I agree with what was said about the importance of this debate. I shall not refer to any particular disputes, not even to that which has just been settled, nor to those two which are still proceeding.
We rather apt, when these disputes arise, to think that we are in a worse position than almost anybody else. We are certainly not. We are working together extraordinarily well and have been working well for a considerable time. There is no need at all to take a pessimistic view of industrial relations between employers and managers on the one side and the men on the other. The old bitter antagonisms, which many of us remember, have disappeared.
To some extent, that is due to what can be described as the benefits which have been brought about by the welfare society. There is a better distribution of wealth, there is not the penury and suffering that there used to be and, consequently, there is less cause for bitterness than there was in the old days. Another factor is the expansion of education, the greater knowledge that everyone has, in all branches of industry, not only of the position of that industry, but of the economic position of the country generally and, indeed, of other countries as well.
Above all, our greatest gain is due to the Trade Union movement and the trade union leaders. Trade unions have grown in number and power and their members are led by men of great ability, of great integrity, of strong personality and very wide experience. I remember the day when the first legislation in this century relating to trade unions was introduced. That was in 1906, nearly 50 years ago. There has been a complete revolution in industrial relations since that date. The Trades Union Congress General Council today knows full well what the position is and knows that it owes a responsibility, which it does exercise, not only to its members, but also to the public at large.
So far as trades disputes are concerned, I want to emphasise—this was touched upon by the right hon. Member for Blyth —that we are really in a better position 1543 than any other country. There is only one—using figures based on the working population—in a better position and that is little Holland. Otherwise, we are better off than Belgium, better off than Japan, and better off than Canada and the United States and, if one descends to figures, we are seven times better off than poor France. That is a record of which we can indeed be proud.
Although our record is good, we are in a weaker position than all the other countries to bear the inevitable losses that must occur when there is war in industry—strikes are a form of war. We are 50 million people and this is a very heavily populated country. We depend on foreign trade and we cannot even feed ourselves unless we are in a position, by foreign trade, to buy our food and raw materials. No country needs peace in industry more than we do and none suffers so heavily as we suffer when there is war; and, as I have said before, strikes are war.
No one escapes their effects. They damage the industry itself. They hurt all who are engaged in that industry and, most of all, hurt the strikers themselves and their families. They harm us all. No one escapes. We are in the same position as when war breaks out. No one likes strikes and the great question we have to put to ourselves is: how are we to avoid them? I want to make it clear that I and my colleagues believe that there is an absolute right for every man or woman to withdraw his or her labour. He or she can do so either individually, or in association with others. That is a basic inherent right which is indefeasible.
The only exception to that great rule is when the safety of the country is involved. That is why, when war breaks out, the House enables the Government to pass legislation and to make orders to make strikes illegal for the duration of the war. But, while maintaining the right to strike, I believe that on all sides—and this is obvious from the speeches made today—there is a genuine and sincere desire to avoid strikes. How can we avoid them? Legislation, as the right hon. Member for Blyth said, will not provide the remedy.
In a free democracy compulsion is unthinkable. We will not tolerate any kind of direction of labour. Public 1544 opinion could influence in the matter, but law certainly cannot compel. Therefore, the way to the avoidance of strikes is opened and can be opened only by cooperation, goodwill and a genuine desire on all sides to arrive at a settlement which is fair—and I emphasise "fair"—to everyone. For at least two generations machinery has existed which was created for the very purpose of avoiding strikes and obtaining full and fair settlement of disputes. However, in spite of that machinery strikes do occur.
It seems that the first thing one notices is that there is dissatisfaction with the present machinery. I believe that one of its weaknesses is the slowness with which it works. Delays not only annoy and frustrate, but sicken people. It is the same with the delay that occurs in the courts of justice. Delays are one of the pestilences from which men suffer. But I think that the trouble is deeper than that. Mere delay does not account for the present position. There is something else. There is obviously a lack of confidence in the machinery as it is set up and as it works today.
It may be that it is outmoded and not capable of adjusting all the difficulties or correcting the individual injustices which inevitably arise. Troubles have occurred and been most noticeable in the larger industries—the coal industry, the docks, the railways. It is obviously easier to get a settlement where the men can go direct to the managers, to the immediate boss, to the man who knows what the position is, what the details are and can understand them and approach them with sympathy and settle them immediately on the spot.
This matter can be put right not by legislation but only by co-operation between the Trades Union Congress, the great leaders of the unions, and the leaders on the other side of industry, whoever they may be, whether the manufacturers' associations, the F.B.I., the shipowners or anyone else. Let them come together and see what they can do to provide better machinery which will command not only the respect but also the confidence of all sides. Let them devise such machinery for the benefit not only of the industry itself, but of the public as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that this involves not only two sides—the employer and the employee—but also the 1545 Government. The Government of the day is perhaps less involved than another party which he did not even mention, namely, the public as a whole. I think the party most deeply involved is the public as a whole, and it is, therefore, a duty upon the trade union leaders and the leaders in industry on the management and owners' side to come together as quickly as they can. I do not want any interference either from the Government or from the House in a matter of that kind. It is a matter which is best settled by people coming voluntarily together and willingly doing their very best to arrive at a fair and just settlement. I was glad to see this view expressed yesterday—it is in the morning papers—by the Chairman of the T.U.C., Mr. Charles Geddes. I do not want any of us to interfere in a matter where interference may lead only to real trouble.
That is one side of the problem, but only one. May I turn to another? The question cannot be completely answered by the mere settlement of a form of machinery between employers on the one side and employees on the other. There is something unsatisfactory within the trade union movement itself. That has been obvious for quite a long time. I begged that very great trade union leader and very great man, Ernest Bevin, to tackle this question immediately after the war, in 1945. I only wish it had been tackled. But it has not, because these troubles are still taking place. If everything were satisfactory, why do these troubles occur today? Why do we have unofficial strikes? Why do we have these breakaway unions and why do we have internecine strikes between two or more unions?
It is no good shouting, as so many people do, that Communism is the cause of it all. I do not believe that for one moment. When there is a sore, the Communist will rub it and will do his best to aggravate the injury and cause more and more trouble, but the sore must have been there the whole time or men would not behave in the way in which they do behave. There is something deeply wrong here.
Who is to tackle it? Certainly not the House and certainly not the Government. This is a matter which can be dealt with only by the trade unions themselves, and I hope they will look into the whole 1546 matter. It may be that their constitutions are outmoded. One has all the time to keep looking at these structures. Even the House itself and the way in which business is conducted has to come under review from time to time.
The right hon. Member for Blyth referred, quite rightly, to the democratic basis of the trade unions, founded on true democracy. But are they working today on a democratic basis? Are the members attending meetings, as one feels they ought to attend, to look after their own interests? The trade unions themselves and their leaders, who are intimately acquainted with the problems, are the only people who can look into these questions and answer them.
It may be that the cause of these breakaway unions is that some of the unions are too big. I do not know. All I know is that in the early days the unions were largely confined to men in the same trade. Take, for example, what is happening now. There is a trade union of engine drivers and firemen. I can well understand any engine driver or fireman saying, "I prefer to leave my difficulties in the hands of those who have had experience as engine drivers and firemen rather than in the hands of those who know about these things only indirectly." That may be a matter which ought to be the subject of inquiry.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is surely aware that the other union in the railways was formed forty-five years ago and is not a new creation at all. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that the problem is of recent origin.
§ Mr. Davies
I did not suggest that it was of recent origin. All I am suggesting is that that is a matter which should be looked into, and that the best people to look into it are the trade union leaders themselves.
I do not like and never have liked the closed shop. Perhaps I may use as an illustration the fact that I am a nonconformist and would prefer to go to my own chapel rather than to the chapel provided by somebody else which I had been compelled to join. I emphasise again that the trade unions alone can put the matter right.
We are all agreed that more than ever we need peace in industry. As was so 1547 eloquently said by the right hon. Member for Blyth, competition is becoming keener and will become keener still. New methods and new ideas are following one another day by day. We cannot afford to quarrel; it is much too expensive a luxury for us to quarrel.
We cannot expect to get peace in industry unless and until all who are engaged in it are getting a fair and proper share of the fruits of the industry—the fruits which they help to produce; workers, managers, shareholders should have the fair share which is due to them. I sat in the House the whole of last Thursday and was delighted at the form which the debate took and at the way in which Member after Member on both sides of the House praised the idea of profit sharing. All those who spoke praised profit sharing and co-partnership in industry. What was more, there was a keen competition between hon. Members to say that they were the first to think of it and to put it forward.
Not one of them—and this does not surprise me—was ready to pay a compliment to the Liberal Party for having put this forward first. Hon. Members were saying, "I have been putting this forward for the last few years." May I remind the House that it was contained in a very great book which is so well known to hon. Members—the Yellow Book, published in 1928.
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, may I remind him, while these claims are being made, that the Co-operative movement, particularly the Co-operative Productive Federation, has had real co-partnership in industry for nearly a hundred years?
§ Mr. Davies
I am also aware that my own fellow countryman, Robert Owen, put that forward, but by no political party was it put forward until we did so in 1928. Many of us had advocated it long before that, and many pamphlets and books have been written by us on it. I am surprised that some of the party of the right hon. Gentleman have not put it forward long ago, especially as his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) comes to every economic debate here with a copy of the Yellow Book in his hand, as if it were a 1548 bible which would answer any question for him if he only had the time to refer to it.
I want to emphasise the point that this is a new idea for the Tories. In the old days, all the employer did was to pay a wage and nothing more. He was not even prepared to contribute towards the Welfare State. Indeed, as has been said, not all members of the Labour Party agree with profit sharing and co-partnership. I can well understand that, because it is quite foreign to their ideas. I want to know what has happened to the great creed that all the means of production, distribution and exchange should be nationally owned.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell me in what way a person who is engaged by an employer, and agrees to work for a certain wage on a certain job, does not enter into co-partnership? When I was engaged to do a job I understood that I was a copartner and was working in the interests of the firm.
§ Mr. Davies
That is a limited co-partnership to the extent of the amount of the wage. One thing that has to be made clear is that any extra profit sharing or co-partnership is no substitute for the wage packet at the end of the week. All that profit sharing or co-partnership entails is a recognition that something more is needed to be given to the worker. He is now to be taken into consideration in the industry as a human being. He must know why he is working, what the aim is, what the purpose of the industry is, and if, as a result of that co-operation, extra profits are made, he ought to be entitled to a share of them—
§ Mr. Davies
That is a matter for consideration by each industry. Therefore, this is obviously the way which will lead to a better understanding between the managerial side and the workers and to a better and a fairer distribution of the profits made by their joint endeavours. That is the right way by which to get that peace in industry which is so much needed.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that we are on a razor edge. If anything goes wrong, the disaster will be tremendous and we shall not be able to 1549 recover from it. When everything has gone rightly and in our favour this country has led the world in industry and in methods of peace and understanding. Let us continue in that way. Then a great reward would come to us. It is upon those lines that one desires that those in industry should work, and work together for the common good.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I rise to make my maiden speech, Sir, and therefore, ask the House for its customary courtesy and forbearance. My justification for intervening in a debate which excites so much public interest, and which is politically so delicate, is threefold. First, I discovered as the General Election proceeded that my constituents were more interested in this subject of industrial relations, and particularly in that aspect of it which touches upon unofficial strikes, than in all other subjects which came before the electorate during the course of the election.
That, to me, is not entirely surprising since my constituency of Eastleigh is an industrial centre. I realise that Hampshire is not normally associated in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members with industry, but in Eastleigh we have the major locomotive and carriage works of the Southern Region of British Railways, we have a large cable works, we have a considerable aircraft industry, we have a large printing works, and a number of small, light industries. It is, therefore, not surprising that those people should be interested in this subject. The lives of many of my constituents are dominated by the factory gate, and what goes on inside that gate largely determines whether they shall lead happy and purposeful lives or whether their lives will be just a listless struggle for existence.
My second justification for intervening in this debate is that many of my constituents took part in the recent rail strike. I believe that we are also quite well represented in the shipping strike. You see, Sir, we are a vigorous constituency and like to take part in these national movements, even if their form is occasionally a little unorthodox. My footplate men have recently asked me to demand the immediate dismissal of all the British Transport Commission, but as, by custom, a maiden speech is non- 1550 controversial, I am not in a position to support their claims, at least not today.
My third justification for intervening is that I myself have been working in industry, not only in this country, but also abroad. For the last 18 months I have travelled 80,000 miles round the factories and mines of the world. I visited North America on a number of occasions, India, Pakistan, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and many of the European countries. I was in Australia last autumn during the dock strike. I saw orders being lost to this country because British exporters could not honour their delivery dates by delivering the goods—a small, practical lesson to me in what can he the cost of strikes in the docks.
From my travels and my experiences in industry it is clear to me that the answer to our current industrial disputes does not, and cannot, lie in further legislation at the present time. There are, I know, times when legislation is appropriate—as in the Factories Acts, the Trade Disputes Acts and the like. Basically, however, we cannot legislate good relations. The subject of industrial relations is all about people, and we cannot make people friends simply by passing laws telling them that they ought to be friends.
In this context, I am reminded of what Dr. Johnson once wrote:How small of all that human hearts endure,That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!Nor can the depth of the problem be measured simply by the number of strikes, be they official or unofficial. The fact that men are not on strike does not mean that relations are good; just as the absence of positive hatred, in my opinion, is not an adequate basis for marriage.
I do not wish to paint a false picture of industrial relations. In a negative sense they are good, but in a positive sense I believe that much is lacking. Our sins are the sins of omission rather than the sins of commission. Too often are we satisfied with an absence of strife and we call it harmony. There are factories which I have been round where the eyes of the people speak silent mutiny to the management, but more common is a listless apathy towards work and the place of work, where people live only for the 1551 end of the day, where work is a drudgery and where, at best, it is patiently borne as a necessary evil—for without work we do not eat.
Unless people can derive some pleasure and some sense of purpose from their work, they cannot be happy; and if they are not happy, industrial relations cannot be good. That is what I mean when I say that we need something positive. We must create the conditions whereby people can positively enjoy their work. One of my first bosses in industry used the slogan, "Try to make work fun." I have always tried to live by that, and I believe that if one does one gets a lot more out of life. I believe that if we can make work fun for people in our factories, we shall go a long way towards removing the causes of industrial dispute.
The House may rightly ask, how do we make people happy? It is the 64 dollar question. What is the answer? I know that this is the heart of the problem, but there is not a simple remedy. Anyone who expects to find one will be sorely disappointed. Joint consultation, job evaluation, training within industry, job selection and profit sharing are all useful devices in their proper place, but none of these is in itself a universal remedy.
We must guard against industrial quacks who peddle high-sounding specifics for the ills of industry. Like medical quacks, they do great harm, particularly among those who know very little about industry. A good manager knows that an employee is something more than a pair of hands or a substitute for a machine, but I sometimes wonder whether the less thoughtful ones do.
However technical a problem may be, management must never forget that each employee is, in his own way, individual, unique and eternal. He therefore deserves individual treatment. Unfortunately, the cry for equality by various pressure groups is sometimes so strong that we often do grave injustice by the individual under the cry for equality—I ought not to be excessively controversial—as in the case of inadequate differentials or paying two men the same wage when one does twice as much work. Management must resist the pressure of the big battalions, from whatever quarter it comes.
1552 The first responsibility for industrial relations clearly lies with management. They establish the conditions of work. They have the day-to-day responsibility for the men under their command and they should create the proper atmosphere in which work appears worth while. By definition, it is management's job to lead and to inspire. Unfortunately, some of our managers are somewhat timorous and fearful of giving too strong a lead in case they upset head office or the union.
It is my belief that the British working man prefers sturdy leadership and, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), he does not like to be managed by "desiccated calculating machines." That is why I believe that one of the most effective ways of improving industrial relations is to improve the standard of management. By management, I mean primarily industrial management, but I would point out that both the trade unions and the Government have their own management problems. I hope that my right hon. Friends who are responsible for nationalised industries will encourage their boards to press ahead with management training and to pay their managements better, to pay them the rate for the job, and to recruit more extensively from the universities and the senior technical colleges.
If people are to be happy, they must have a sense of purpose. I venture to suggest that industry has a very clear purpose. First, let me say what that purpose is not. Primarily, that purpose is not either to make profits or to provide employment. They are secondary purposes. The prime purpose of industry is to provide the goods and services which the community needs.
In fulfilling that purpose there are three partners to the enterprise: the customers who provide the market and without whom the enterprise could not exist; all employees, from the chairman to the newest joined apprentice—they provide the brawn and the brain—and, finally, the stockholders, who are able to multiply, and to multiply many times, the effectiveness of the employees by providing fixed and working capital. Those are the three partners to the industrial bargain and they each have a claim upon the enterprise. Their rights may be summed up quite simply—a fair wage, a just price and a reasonable return.
1553 Where these partners can be more closely linked, as in a profit-sharing scheme, then a greater sense of purpose is created. I am a firm believer in the principle of profit sharing, but having, possibly, been one of the few hon. Members of this House who has played some part in actually devising a profit-sharing scheme and installing it into one of our larger companies, I must warn the House against depending on it as a patent medicine. Profit sharing will work only where relations are already good, where there is a tradition of good relations between unions and management and, of course, where there is some profit to share.
Wages, hours of work, working conditions, amenities, profit sharing—they all play their part in industrial relations, but in the last analysis it gets down to the character, the personality and the example of the people who lead the enterprise. The heart of good leadership lies as it always has, in two very simple words, "Follow me."
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The high distinction has been conferred upon me of offering felicitations to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) on his maiden speech. I must say that, much as I admired a great deal of the substance of that speech, and, in particular, the delivery, it could hardly be regarded as non-controversial. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make many more speeches of the same kind in the House, because I detect some criticism of the Government with whom he is now associated.
However, it was undoubtedly an admirable maiden effort, and I have not the least doubt that it will make some of the older Members of the House green with envy. I have a fellow-feeling with the hon. Member, because I am not quite sure about my own position. It is 33 years since I made a speech from the back benches and, as I am here now, I am wondering whether I ought not to ask for the indulgence of the House, though that concession is not likely to come my way. Not that I intend to be controversial: far from it.
I want to offer some observations which might be regarded as helpful and constructive which, I take it, is the purpose of all hon. and right hon. Members who are contributing to this important debate. Before I proceed, however, I 1554 should like to endorse the commendation —the high and, indeed, deserved commendation—which has been expressed about the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour. I understand that for quite good reasons he has had to leave the Chamber, but intends to come back later.
Whatever may be our views about the right hon. and learned Gentleman's political alignments and affiliations, he is undoubtedly endeavouring to render considerable service to the nation in promoting satisfactory industrial relations. He is a man of high quality. That, I think, we all agree. I understand there are rumours that he is anxious to leave the Government. I do not know what truth there is in those rumours, but I wonder what the Government will do without him. As I look along the Treasury Bench—not the sparsely attended bench that we see now, but the bench we occasionally see—the quality fails to impress me. The Government will be hard put to it to find a satisfactory replacement for the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
But, however highly we commend him, I think that the Minister is responsible for one serious defect, and that relates to what has happened in connection with the unofficial strike of seamen. It occurred to me, when the hon. Member for Eastleigh was saying that he had been associated with various disputes in his constituency —the dockers, the seamen and the railwaymen—that he ought to be careful. An association of that kind might lead to a call-up, though he might have Parliamentary immunity.
I must say that what has happened in connection with the call-up of seamen—I believe they are stewards, and associated with the catering department; they are not in the deck or the engine room departments—is a very disturbing feature of the National Service Acts and the powers vested in the Ministry of Labour and National Service. It seemed to me that this afternoon the Minister tried to "pass the buck." In effect, he said, "Well, this is not my responsibility. I have to do what I am told. I have to operate the provisions of these Acts. What else can I do? There is a body which is responsible. The Registrar of Seamen has detailed information about men no longer 1555 available for sea service and, if they are eligible under the National Service Acts, they can be called up. It is not my responsibility."
That may be. But it does not dispose of the undoubted fact—and a very disturbing fact, indeed—that these men were called up during an unofficial dispute. The same may have happened had there been an official dispute. As I had something to do with the origin of the National Service Acts, I am satisfied that that was never the intention of the promoters. If I may say so—and I regret to say this—it is reminiscent of events in France many years ago, when military service was used as a threat against men who dared to engage in industrial disputes.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I wish only to state one fact; that none of these men has yet been called up. So far, the only action taken has been to send the normal letter asking in which branch of the Services they wish to serve. There will be quite a long period before anything further is done.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am extremely sorry that the hon. Gentleman found it necessary to intervene, although I readily gave way to him. It seems to me that what he has now said is that the note sent to the men was intended as a form of intimidation.
§ Mr. Watkinson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In effect, what it meant was this, "You are no longer available for sea service. You will not accept the employment offered to you. You are out of the pool"—that is the system that operates in the sea service at the present time—"and, therefore, we give you due notice that unless you go back to work and stop this nonsense you will be called up."
It is quite wrong to do that sort of thing, more particularly because there is discrimination. The other day, when Questions were asked about this subject, I ventured to point out that that was not the procedure adopted in the case of miners engaged in an unofficial dispute. But that is by the way. There may be a reason why they dared not try that with 1556 the miners. But it will be noted by hon. Members that there is discrimination among the men engaged in this dispute. Those eligible for military service are notified that they will be called up unless they return to work. But the men no longer eligible, and those who never were eligible for military service, suffer no penalty whatever. That is a form of discrimination which was never intended.
There has been a good deal of controversy in the Press about this and some comments have been made outside by responsible and also by irresponsible people. I notice that the General Secretary of the National Union of Seamen has stated that some of these young men joined the sea service to escape their military obligations. If that kind of thing is going on, it is about time that the Ministry of Labour and National Service looked into it.
If men are going to sea, not because they want to but simply because they wish to avoid their military obligations, it would appear to me that, first, they are of no use at sea; and that, secondly, the Ministry of Labour and National Service ought to clamp down on them. But that is by the way. I regard the whole position as being eminently unsatisfactory and I am bound to say that those responsible for the administration of the pool, and who inspired the notices to these men, are acting in a fashion that may lead to serious trouble.
I also read that Mr. Geddes, the Chairman of the T.U.C., has expressed the opinion that no one in this House—he referred to some hon. Members on this side—had any right to condone unofficial disputes. No one has done so. We have all been careful to say that we regard unofficial disputes as very disturbing; that they should not take place at all; that there is machinery to enable men to have their grievances dealt with. That has been stated over and over again. But hon. Members will see that controversy has arisen out of this, and there may be more controversy and bad feeling, which is the sort of thing we want to avoid. I blame the Government, largely, for taking the precipitate action which they did, and I am sorry that the Minister of Labour and National Service was drawn into it.
What about the conditions of these men? It has been stated in the House today by the right hon. and learned 1557 Gentleman that there are excellent agreements governing the conditions of the men who serve in the catering departments aboard ships. I have engaged in strikes myself. I have engaged in as many strikes as anyone in this assembly, and I would tell hon. Members that I know of no strike, official or unofficial, which had not a cause—and sometimes a legitimate cause.
Even the inter-union controversy between the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers and the Transport and General Workers' Union is caused by the "poaching" of members of other unions, and the sooner agreement is reached the better, for the good of the nation and the Trade Union movement. As for one union "poaching" from another, well, I have about fifty-one years' experience of trade unionism in one form or another and I never at any time found that unions failed to "poach" if they could get away with it. It is a common practice. After all, one might expect it, because unions wish to build up their membership and if they can do so from the membership of another union they do —if they can get away with it. That is precisely why the Trades Union Congress General Council has a disputes committee in order to deal with these matters.
Do not let us deceive ourselves about what goes on. I say that there is always a cause—usually a just cause—for disputes which take place. What we in this House have to deal with, we are expected to deal with it, is how to avoid the disputes themselves, and the acerbity and grousing among trade unions, and the general trouble emerging from it all. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said, and what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) about the dangers facing this country. These are common places.
Someone said that we are living on a razor edge. I have not the slightest doubt that we are facing formidable competition and that the situation will become very much worse if there is anything in the nature of disarmament. We all want disarmament, but do not let us blind ourselves to the possibilities that will result even from a gradual or partial process of disarmament. As a result, there may be unemployment, unless we adjust ourselves to the new situation.
1558 We are in a difficulty. When people talk about living on the razor edge, I must say that when I read in the newspapers, and sometimes the society publications, of the orgies, the fantastic, grotesque banquets, the gallivanting, the gourmandising and all the rest of it, and the waste of work and of national substance, I do not wonder at working-class people—even highly paid working-class people—being a little disturbed about it all. Not much of a razor edge about that. We read it all in the newspapers. I am not going to mention any particular newspapers, because there is no reason why I should give them a gratuitous advertisement.
Something has been said about the position of the nationalised industry. I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite have occasionally commented on the fact that there are strikes in the nationalised industries. They suggested when nationalisation was promoted that it would lead to a cessation of strikes. They also said that we would deprive the men of their liberty. They cannot have it both ways.
I confess, quite freely and frankly, that when we talked about nationalisation we believed that it would help to prevent disputes. Indeed, that was one of the reasons we promoted nationalisation schemes. Unfortunately, that has not happened, and we ought to inquire why. I would direct the attention of the House to Section 46 (1) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, as showing what we as the Government at that time attempted to do. It was then thought that we must do something to promote the very best relations in the industry. The Section reads:It shall be the duty of the Board to enter into consultation with organisations appearing to them to represent substantial proportions of the persons in the employment of the Board … for the settlement by negotiation of terms and conditions of employment … and consultations on questions relating to safety, health or welfare of such persons; "—and I ask hon. Members to note the following paragraph—the organisation and conduct of the operations in which such persons are employed and other matters of mutual interest to the Board and such persons arising out of the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions.In other words, not merely wages, conditions, hours of labour, safety, health and 1559 welfare, but the organisation of the industry and its administration. In other words, the men were to become partners with the Coal Board in the nationalised industry.
To what extent have we met with success in this? At the top we have been successful, but at the pit level not to the extent that we expected. What is the cause of it? To some extent, it is due to the fact that mine managers are so overwhelmed with activities of all kinds that they are incapable of dealing with the substance of the paragraph that I have just read to the House. Moreover, mine managers are not always as resilient as we should like them to be. They are not always adaptable; sometimes they are offended by what the men say, while the men are sometimes offended by what the managers or the under-managers say. That is very often the cause of disputes.
Something has also been said today about the number of disputes that have occurred in the industries of this country. Some hon. Members have endeavoured to present a favourable comparison with other countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery both did so. I must point out that although our disputes may not be as numerous or as disastrous as those which occur in the United States and in other countries—I cannot speak about Russia, because I do not know what is going on there; I do not think they permit disputes —nevertheless, they are far too numerous and destructive, and, in the end, may prove disastrous.
I have the Report of the National Coal Board. It is in difficulties for many reasons—past neglect in the pits, the lack of organisation and the absence of proper mechanisation. Hon. Members are familiar with all these matters, but there are two or three paragraphs of the Report which deal with the amount of coal lost as the result of unofficial disputes. There was the recent unofficial dispute in Yorkshire, which lost the country one million tons of coal.
I am sure that hon. Members will acquit me of being opposed to the miners, to whom I have always been devoted. Nevertheless, I doubt very much whether, 1560 if the Yorkshire miners who engaged in that unofficial dispute had considered in retrospect the amount of coal lost as a result of it, they would have acted as they did. It is in retrospect that one begins to realise what one is up against. What was the cause of the dispute? I am not acquainted with the facts, but, as I have said before, there is usually a just cause.
How are we to escape from all this? We can offer all kinds of contributions and suggestions, as has already been done in the course of this debate, but they may lead nowhere at all. Much depends on temperament and conditions, and on the way in which men adjust themselves to a situation. A great deal depends on what is going on in society today—the fact that working-class people can see what is going on around them—and much depends on the action of Governments.
I cannot understand the attitude of the Government, who seem to be saying, "There is an industrial dispute. There are the managers and the work people who are represented by the trade unions. It is not our business to make any move to come in until we reach the point when it is essential to intervene or when we are asked to intervene." I do not agree with that at all.
We must concern ourselves with public interest and anxiety when disputes take place. Take the railway dispute. I will not deal with the merits of it because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) are much better acquainted with the subject than I am. While that dispute was going on, and was causing a great deal of upset in the country and disquiet in many places, the public were not fully informed on the facts.
In my judgment, immediately a dispute occurs, or even before it actually occurs, the public should be fully informed of the facts in order to be able to arrive at a sound judgment. What is more, it is very important that the unions and all concerned should be fully acquainted with the facts. How are we to face that? I think that it is possible for the Government to do something. It is not as if they had not the power. They have powers which they have never invoked.
I will read an extract from a pamphlet entitled "Industrial Relations," published 1561 by the Chartered Institute of Secretaries. It says:The Industrial Courts Act empowers the Minister to inquire into any trade dispute, whether reported to him or not and, if he thinks fit, to appoint a Court of Inquiry, any reports of which have to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The consent of the parties to the inquiry being held is not required. The Court may require persons with knowledge of the subject matter to appear before it and give evidence on oath.I know that this power is sparingly used, and has been, in the past, no doubt with great wisdom. We must exercise prudence in the matter because, otherwise, we may create more trouble. In my judgment, we are in a different situation today largely because of full employment and largely because the nature of unofficial disputes is such as to cause inter-union trouble and acrimony, and anxiety on the part of the general public, apart from its effects on the economy of the nation.
I wish to make a proposition which I know will not be agreeable to some hon. Members, particularly to those associated with the trade unions. Indeed, it may not be agreeable to some hon. Members opposite. When I say that the situation is different today from what it was before, I mean when there was a lot of unemployment and when men, naturally, expressed their disquiet by engaging in strikes. I do not think that they are so necessary nowadays, although I agree that I would not withdraw the right to strike.
Do not forget what we are doing. Nearly every day, in Questions in the House, hon. Members on both sides, and particularly on this side, ask how we are to prevent, in spite of ideological differences throughout the world, the danger of conflict. We are at loggerheads with other countries, and they are at loggerheads with us. They do not agree with us and we do not agree with them about our respective ways of living. Nevertheless, we are ready to enter into agreement with them to end war, because we regard war as barbaric, old-fashioned, played out and no longer necessary in a civilised world.
Why should we not apply the same principle to our internal affairs? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] Some of my hon. Friends say that we do. All right, then; if we do, somebody had better explain why these disputes break out. The fact 1562 is that we have a great deal of trouble in spite of our good intentions. How are we to prevent it? We have to adjust ourselves to modern conditions in what might be referred to as an almost revolutionary way, and we must apply the principle involved both to nationalised industry and to private industry. About private industry I would only say that we did a great deal to promote its efficiency, and to point out the need for managements to respond to the needs of the men. We do not object to private enterprise, so long as it is efficient enterprise, and we do not object to management, so long as it is properly expressed in its relationship with the men.
If we are to adapt ourselves to modern conditions—and this is the point about which hon. Members may be in disagreement, even violent disagreement, with me; I put forward the suggestion merely as a possibility and as something to be considered by responsible bodies—it may be necessary to promote a national wage policy. I am speaking not so much of a minimum wage—enforced by law after negotiations between the unions and the employers—or of differentials, as of the creation of what might be described as an economic council, consisting of men with a broad knowledge of industrial affairs—such as trade union leaders and employers of labour—and also of independent persons with judicial minds. To such a body disputes relating to wages, conditions or any matters affecting industry could be referred, not for the purposes of arbitration or reaching a decision but of ascertaining the whole of the facts, in the light of the nation's economy; considering, for example, the question of the wages which should be paid in undermanned industries, what should be paid by way of differentials, and what should be done having regard to the increase in the cost of living.
Such a body, considering all the facts and presenting them to the Government, the unions and the public, so that all the parties concerned would have all the facts available before them and be in a position to come to a correct judgment, might help considerably. I do not wish to go beyond that at present, but it is surely wrong to leave things as they are; to leave things in the hands of the Minister of Labour, who said today that he did not want to intervene until a certain point had been reached. In relation to both the 1563 rail strike and the seamen's strike—whether or not the strike is official—it is desirable to ascertain the facts, so that everybody may be sufficiently informed.
I hope that as a result of this debate something useful will emerge—not that I expect all strikes to be prevented in future, but so that if a dispute does arise and a strike result the public will be so fully informed that we shall have neither the kind of statements which have recently appeared in the newspapers nor the foolish observations which have been made in this House from time to time.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I thought it might fall to me to welcome the return of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to the honourable company of back benchers. He has assumed a position of greater freedom and less responsibility, and I am sure that the House will be enriched by that fact. At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman was reminiscent not so much of the title of his recent book—"Conflict Without Malice"—as of that older partnership of "Arsenic and Old Lace," in which the right hon. Gentleman never cast himself for the part of "Old Lace."
I want, however, to deal more particularly with the concluding portions of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. His remarks were of the very greatest interest. What has emerged from almost every speech made today is the fact that there is a sense of the enormous power which now lies in the hands of the trade unions, and the enormous responsibility which falls upon them. In many cases overemphasis is laid upon that point—because some responsibility certainly lies upon managements.
The first point I want to make is that a new entity has emerged in the body politic—the power of the trade unions to intervene, in an organised fashion, in our lives, either to promote or to bring to a dead stop the intricate processes upon which the modern State depends. Accompanying that is a sense of a new kind of property—a property in the job. The job is now an entity, in which a man has a sense of possession. A maxim of Mr. Justice Darling was that property might be defined not only as "what I 1564 think is mine but what I am certain is not yours." The modern job is a thing in respect of which its possessors—as shown by recent events—can say, "It may not be mine, but it is certainly not yours." The resentment expressed against those men who, in our modern phraseology, are called "blacklegs," or "scabs"—the men who enter upon employment which other men feel is rightly theirs—is as acute as that of men who feel that their physical property is being stolen.
Are not we witnessing the emergence of a new Estate of the Realm? The Estates of the Realm were the great bodies of which the State was made up. We ourselves, the Commons, were brought into consultation not because the Government of the day liked us but because it could not get on without us. I feel that the great labour bodies will have to be brought more and more into our councils, not only as leaders of organised labour, but as an Estate of the Realm—a new strand in our national make-up, lacking which the nation cannot work. It is the hallmark of an Estate of the Realm that it can vote supplies. We can vote the supply of money, without which the enterprises of the State cannot be conducted; the trade unions can vote the supply of labour, without which, equally, the affairs of State cannot be conducted.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of an economic council, to which disputes or the possible causes of disputes should be referred, does not go quite far enough. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour mentioned the possibility of an inquiry into the whole system of industrial relations. We may need to go even farther than that. The possibility of an industrial Parliament has been mooted by more than one statesman of high experience and reputation. Long ago it was referred to by Mr. Leo Amery, and it was also discussed in a more philosophical way by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). A standing body is needed, not merely to discuss the moment at which the inflammation is becoming so acute that it is about to burst out in some kind of boil or eruption, but to carry on the interchange of information which is vitally necessary if the two parties to a dispute are to understand each other.
1565 Even this afternoon we have heard an argument, which has not yet been concluded, between the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) as to the exact position of the Seamen's Union in the industrial pool. I hope to hear more of it. If we are to be at loggerheads on a subject so vital as that in an assembly so very well-informed as this, the need for much more information on all these matters than we shall or can have, in the circumstances of this House, is evident.
For example, the relationship between what is called the Stock Exchange "boom" and the industry of today needs a very great deal more explanation on both sides of the House than it has had. The very words "Stock Exchange" are like a red rag to a bull to many hon. Members opposite, who fail to understand that this boom is simply the other side to the slow and continuous inflation which leads to full employment.
§ Mr. Elliot
Not necessarily. That is one of the matters which might well be discussed, and which we cannot go into here because time is not enough nor is our information sufficient.
The relationship of the depreciating value of money to the haste to use it and translate it into fixed capital or concrete goods of one kind or another: the repercussion upon employment—which is full employment—or even "overfull employment," to repeat the words used by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), and not by a Member on our side: the recapitalisation of many of the great industries which is going on just now—these things are all intimately linked, and a great deal of misunderstanding exists upon them. This undoubtedly leads to a great deal of bitterness.
When are these things to be discussed? We shall not have time to do so, for we need time to work these things out. We need highly-informed and instructive opinion to do it; drawn not merely from trade union leaders, but from leaders in the organisation of industry and of our great companies. It is not as simple as all that merely to repudiate what is called the Stock Exchange "boom." I cannot imagine our going into these matters in 1566 detail tonight, but we all feel the need for a body in which they could be considered. I am not at all sure that a simple, ad hoc investigation by a kind of industrial court, or even by a committee, suggested by the right hon. Member, would be sufficient.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Perhaps I did not make my meaning clear. I do not want a body of a temporary character to be appointed, but a permanent body; indeed, a body of the kind suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, although I would not call it an industrial Parliament.
§ Mr. Elliot
The essence of it was that it should be a body to which disputes could be referred. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's idea and I wrote it down. It will need to be quite wide, and, as the Minister of Labour said, it will be something more like an inquiry into the whole system of industrial relations, not in the case of disputes only, but in the sense of restating our industrial philosophy of today.
It is necessary that we should confine ourselves here as much as we can, within very strict limits, because a great many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, some with far greater knowledge than I have. I will therefore ask the House to consider this last point.
We are formulating here the conditions which will govern in the whole of the industrial world the relations between capital and labour, and not merely in this country alone. Nothing is more striking as one travels abroad than to find, parallel with the political liberation going on all over the world, a violent industrialisation. Whatever may be said about our other politics, in labour politics this country is supreme. I had the opportunity of visiting Africa with some of our colleagues—I remember particularly the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley)— and discussing trade unionism with the trade union leader Tom Mboya—the discipline, organisation and responsibility of trade unions. I had the instant impression that we were dealing with something as close to the heart of the African as the composition of the Legislative Council of Kenya, or even something a great deal more immediate.
In our discussions in this House we are laying down conditions which will be 1567 examined all over the world. The proposals which we make will be canvassed in many circles in Asia and Africa, about which none of us are thinking today. The industrial revolution which is going on in the rest of the world will take its tempo and a great deal of its actual doctrine from what is said and done in this country—even in this debate. That is the very great responsibility that falls on us, and that is why we should treat very seriously and constructively suggestions such as those made by the Minister of Labour and tonight by the right hon. Member for Seaham Harbour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Easington."] I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I was thinking of his older days, when he used to sit further along the bench than he does now.
Let us remember our great responsibility. The remedies we propose will be looked at all over the world, and may be imitated. If we set the thing off on the wrong path we can quite easily do lasting damage, not merely in our own country but in countries far outside our Commonwealth.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)
The question of relationships in industry may take on varied aspects, but, fundamentally, the principle is that of human relationships. I want to examine the principle from that point of view. I may bring down on myself criticism or objection from hon. Members on the Government benches, but I assure them that what I say is based on my own experience.
I left elementary school when I was 14 and went into the mining industry. From the age of 14 I was in the mining industry until exactly one month ago today, when I tendered my resignation as a miners' lodge official. I had served for sixteen years as a lodge official. I have, therefore, had experience both of private enterprise and of nationalisation in the coal industry. Some of the feelings I express may cause a revolt among the Government's supporters, but I assure them that I do not speak in a provocative way but only to show the long way we have come.
I remember the time when to be a member of a trade union was frowned upon by the coal owners, and we were 1568 looked upon suspiciously when we held our trade union meetings. The colliery manager usually knew the next morning what had happened at the trade union meeting the night before.
§ Mr. Ainsley
I remember when a colliery manager was instructed to stand for the local authority to safeguard the company's interest, and when he was instructed to take the chair for the Tory candidate at a Parliamentary Election.
That was when the present Prime Minister was seeking election in my own Parliamentary division. The chairman was none other than the colliery manager. That is how the Prime Minister started his Parliamentary career. It was a miner who advised him that if he wished to make any headway he should leave the County of Durham. I was present when that was said—I was one of those who were seeking to keep him out.
In those days we went to the colliery office to juggle with fractions and percentages to determine a basic tonnage rate which would enable us to eke out a meagre living. It is to those days, under private enterprise in coal mining, that we look back. As one of the local lodge officials I know they were difficult days in which to negotiate. On 1st January, 1947, alongside the National Coal Board flag on the pit heap there flew the Union Jack. What a proud day it was for the miners.
At one time I sat as an assessor to deal with my own colleagues if they did not put in 100 per cent. attendance. Then we had production committees urging greater production in the industry, and those have developed into the consultative committees—and with those came in a consideration of human relations. I know that the House will pardon me if I give an experience of my own to illustrate what used to happen under private enterprise. As a putter lad—that is, a transit hand taking the tubs from the face—I suggested a way of transferring the tub that would ease the burden on the putter lad. The answer I received was, "You are here to do the putting; we are here to do the thinking." The inward revolt in a young lad anxious to do his best but receiving rebuffs like that may be imagined by hon. Members.
1569 Today, under nationalisation, we have joint consultation, and I say to trade union members that the more they put into industry the more they will get out of it. In examining colliery plans, discussing output and problems arising in certain plans we now have joint consultation, with practical experience on one side of the table and the mining engineers' knowledge on the other.
As a lodge official, I am happy to say that in my experience we have never had one day's stoppage. The reason is that whenever I had a complaint I always sought to give the colliery manager an understanding of the matter involved so that he could deal with it at the beginning rather than let it magnify by delay. In the nationalised industries today the negotiating structure needs examining with a view to settling quickly those little grievances that grow when there is delay in the negotiating machinery.
In the coal mining industry we also take the human factor into consideration in health and welfare. Well do I remember the days when we used to sit in the coal trade office at Newcastle and bargain on compensation for our maimed and injured men. There is a more humane system today. There is a high percentage of men maimed in the mining industry and we see that they are treated as human beings. I am proud, too, that nationalised industry is seeking to bring knowledge and enlightenment to the individual. In County Durham there is liaison between the Durham Division of the National Coal Board, the Durham County Council and the County Education Committee. We have teachers who are training boys for a mining career.
Having looked at the past and at the present I want to make suggestions for the future which will, I think, help to bring about a better understanding and a better relationship in industry generally. As a member of deputations it has been my lot repeatedly to meet the Minister of Education. I wish that he would seek to bring into operation Part III of the 1944 Act, so that lads who are now leaving school at 15 years of age with no further prospects of continuing to climb the educational ladder might be encouraged to do so. The Coal Board has such a ladder, but in 1570 other industries these young people are left much to their own devices.
I plead for consideration for the county colleges. In County Durham we have started an experiment which has proved successful, and I would ask hon. Members opposite not to keep sniping at Lambton Castle. There, with young men taken from industry we are discussing during their weekend stay national and international problems, trade union principles and relations in industry. We are educating our young people and I would urge hon. Members opposite to encourage us rather than to seek to frustrate and criticise the county's policy in its relationship between education and industry.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
I am delighted to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley). It is always a pleasure to listen to one who speaks with such conviction from a great wealth of experience, and who speaks as a practical man with practical knowledge. That the House always welcomes. We have listened, I am sure, with close attention to the hon. Member, who has spoken not only well, with confidence and humour but, I am convinced, has spoken from the heart. We shall look forward to listening to him on many occasions, because he has very truly caught the spirit and temper of the House.
This has been a remarkable debate, opened by a remarkable man—my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour—who, in his opening speech, set the tone at a very high level which has been maintained throughout. The tone of the debate has shown that Parliament is very conscious of the immense importance of industrial relations and what lies behind them. A previous speaker made a very profound statement when he said that industrial relations are not measured by the number of strikes there are but by industrial harmony and relations, and by the tone and standard of the work and attitudes maintained in each and every factory in the country. A factory can be working, but may not necessarily be working as it should. The problem lies here more than in that strike-bound factory.
Some very attractive proposals have been put forward by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and by 1571 my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot). They fascinate me, and I hope that in a later debate we may be able to develop our ideas on those matters.
We in this country in the last decade have made tremendous advances in the field of social security, social services and social responsibility, and I feel that there is every prospect that we shall in this decade achieve the same impressive progress in the realm of industrial relationships, industrial responsibility and industrial security. It requires, however, a preparedness to discard outworn and outmoded thinking and, above all, it requires genuine good will. Indeed, if we do not do so, the very social security of which we are so proud will be seen to be founded on quicksands, and we shall sink from a first-class nation into the position of one of the has-beens.
I paid particular attention to what was said by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) this afternoon. I think he struck a very significant and important note. Competition abroad against us is increasing in a most formidable way. Last year we were tremendously proud—emphasis was laid on this in Parliament and in the Press—of the fact that we had attained the highest export figures in all our industrial history. The figure was related to 2,775 million dollars. It is expressed in dollars because that happens to be a convenient international currency. In the same year Germany exported goods to the value of no less than 4,714 million dollars—nearly twice Great Britain's amount.
There is another factor of which we should not lose sight. We are proud of our very high level of full employment today. In all quarters of the House we strive to maintain it. Nevertheless, in the United States there are several million unemployed. In Italy there are 1¼ million unemployed and in Germany there are approximately 1,200,000 unemployed. If we falter, if our industrial relations deteriorate and our industrial strife increases, those countries will take our orders and the food out of the mouths of our workers.
The Conservative Government believes that, next to international peace, industrial peace is the first charge on the aims and policies of the Government. I 1572 am very glad that it has been emphasised on our side of the House that we believe that the less politicians interfere in industry and union matters the better for all concerned. Instead, we believe that industrial peace can come only by ever-increasing standards of responsibility and accountability on the part of management, the unions and the men. There is no royal road. It is an individual responsibility and a collective responsibility.
We have got a long way to go and a lot of difficult ground to cover. One of the first difficulties is the thorny problem of labour unrest in the nationalised industries. It is sad to think of it, but in the nationalised sector of industry there were more disputes than in the rest of British industry put together last year. I believe that if the men in the nationalised industries took their tone from the speech of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West it would be a good thing.
I was encouraged to hear the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed on the subject of nationalised industry, because the success or failure of the nationalised industries lies largely in the hands of the men themselves. The tragedy of nationalisation in itself is that it destroys that vital sense of personal responsibility on the part of the men and the equally essential competitive impulse on the part of management.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that nationalisation destroys personal initiative among the men. Does he think there is greater encouragement for personal initiative in private industry?
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I cannot give way again. There are many others who wish to speak.
The next problem is the acute problem of inter-union rivalries, which have been the root cause of at least two of the recent strikes. This is a trade union 1573 matter, and in particular a T.U.C. matter calling for a considerable measure of trade union statesmanship, and I am confident that they will find a sound and satisfactory solution to these difficult problems.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove that perhaps, not at this time, but at a later stage, an inquiry into all the aspects and responsibilities within industry at the highest level would be extraordinarily useful, so that one day we may have a permanent body of men speaking for, responsible for, and advising the Government on behalf of all who are interested in and affected by industry.
There is another difficult bit of ground to cover, and that is the question of unofficial strikes, a new phenomenon in industry—the tail wagging the dog, the exercise of power without responsibility, and the removal of responsibility from the unions. In my experience, I have invariably found that these troubles occur where there is a little man in a union trying to be bigger or a manager not big enough. On other occasions either the union or the managerial machine has grown too big and too impersonal. In addition, there is frequently a little clique who too often run a badly attended branch or lodge meeting.
I feel that in a debate of this kind it is wise and reasonable for us to make some suggestions on how these matters should be improved. There has been a good deal of talk about secret ballots. I am confident that the T.U.C. will give careful consideration to these matters, make known its findings and produce in the end effective and positive suggestions. No ballot, secret or otherwise, is of any value unless a substantial majority of the men are present at the lodge meetings and vote. A union cannot compel its men to take an interest in union matters and attend lodge meetings, but I believe that the employers can assist.
I suggest that employers, wherever possible—and in most cases it is possible—should allow, by agreement, the use of the works canteen or some other similar room at the works for union meetings at the end of the shift or the end of the day. Today men's homes are very often dispersed well away from the factory. They have often to make a double journey in order to get home, and then they have 1574 to wash, change, and come back to some central spot for a union meeting. Many of them do not go to all that trouble. If facilities were provided at the place of employment by the management, it would serve a useful purpose.
Further, employers' associations and the unions should give some thought to the bottlenecks which are frequently encountered in negotiations and which unquestionably cause irritation and frustration among the rank and file. I have a feeling that there may be vested interests in the associations and the unions who like to keep something stewing in the pot, thus giving the impression that they are busy and important. Sometimes that pot boils over, and that is very often where these unofficial strikes begin. The time-lag between the claim, the negotiations and the decision is often too long.
I think we have reached a moment in our management-labour relationships when management and employers generally should give consideration to some form of effective long-term contract, in particular for employees with long service, relating the years of service to the period of notice—not necessarily during their working life but at the end of that time, when the men have finished their jobs. It would be a good thing if, when a man finished at 65 years of age, he knew that he could either work out his six months' or twelve months' period and adjust himself to retirement or, alternatively, take a useful lump sum.
I have tried to make a practical approach to these matters and to offer one or two practical solutions. That is all I can claim to be—a practical industrialist. I wish I could offer a ready-made solution to the biggest problem of all—which dwarfs all others—how to overcome the blind prejudice and the reactionary thinking on both sides of industry which cannot and will not recognise that management and men are permanent partners in a three-legged race, bound together with every kind of identical and compatible interest. They are partners who, once they joined hands, linked arms, and took their time from one another, would find that the ease and speed of advance was remarkable, to the benefit of all and of the nation.
That is why we are now encouraging profit sharing, but not as an end in itself, not as a bribe or sop. One of the 1575 maiden speakers said some very pertinent and sound words on the question of profit sharing. I look upon it, as I believe does the Conservative Party, as a general process of education in the intricacies of industrial finance and in the hazards of commerce. By seeing the financial operations and other operations of the company, the men can better understand some of the problems of management. Moreover, I think the profits should be on the table on these occasions.
The profit element is the one disruptive element left in the whole field of industrial relationships. I think it is magnified out of proportion, but nevertheless it must be considered out in the open; and the proper and most effective way to discuss profits is not by reading in the newspaper about some industry far removed from one's own but at the works, learning about one's own company and about the profits and success of one's own organisation. The men, with the management, can then judge whether those profits are fair, right and proper and whether their distribution is fair, right and proper. That is the most effective way to get both management and men to understand and to accept my theory of partners taking part in a three-legged race who must run together or fall.
Disraeli's dream of an industrial democracy is fast becoming a living reality in our country. A silent revolution has been taking place in British industry, and to a surprising and increasing degree the management of today are the sons of the working men of yesterday. I am proud to count myself as one of them. They are not men who will betray that section of society from which they sprang.
I believe that there is a tremendous reservoir of good will being built up in industry. It has largely been built up by the men to whom I refer. In every university the sons of working men are being trained to be the leaders of tomorrow. The industrial battle is over. There is no possibility of a class war in the next decade unless it is engineered by men for their own narrow political purposes.
I believe that we can have industrial peace in our land. If we work to the pattern which I have mentioned, I think that the House will find that we shall have our own house in order, when we 1576 shall maintain prosperity and have security for ourselves, and we shall be able to turn our minds to our wider duty overseas to other nations who have looked to us in the past for leadership and who now look to us for a greater measure of help and support. Where once we reaped now we must sow.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
This is the fourth time today the House has been asked to show its indulgence to a maiden speaker. I hope that I shall not try the patience of the House too long, but this is a subject of great importance.
I have the honour to represent part of the great City of Birmingham, upon whose council I have sat for almost ten years and in whose industry I have had a small part since I left school, for Birmingham is my native city. I hope the House will agree that Birmingham is a progressive city, both in its municipality and in its industrial record. Indeed, I believe that in Birmingham we have played a great part in the economy of the country, not least in maintaining peace in industry and having first-class relations between employers and men. I know that all who represent that great city are most anxious that that should continue.
I should, therefore, like to talk for a few moments about one or two of the problems which I see arising out of full employment—problems which I see both as a result of serving on the Birmingham City Council and as a result of working in industry in Birmingham. The first of these is the problem of high prices, which has been mentioned earlier today. I do not want to say much about it at the moment.
Hon. Members opposite quite rightly obtain great satisfaction from the results of the last Election. They are entitled to do so. I have listened with interest from time to time to their comments about the sharing of prosperity at this time but I find, particularly in Birmingham, that the prosperity which we enjoy as a nation is rather a precarious prosperity. A great deal of the money which is being earned and a great deal of that prosperity is on a man-and-wife budget, with both man and wife going out to work. I cannot think that this is a very healthy sign. I am not one of those who hope that women will not go out to work or suggest that 1577 a woman's place is in the home, but I cannot think that these trends represent a very healthy sign.
An even greater evil is beginning to raise its head in Birmingham, and, I believe, elsewhere—the attraction offered by some industrialists to women to work between 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the evening. I cannot think that that is a good thing for family life or a good social trend in the country. I should, therefore, like to say a word, as I have done in the past, about that evil.
The earnings and the prosperity which people have at present are to a large measure due to the ever-increasing overtime which is being worked. That, of course, raises a fundamental question about which the House is concerned in the debate—the question of differentials or, as we see it in Birmingham, the question of wages as against earnings, which are two very different things. Although we want to do what we can to maintain peace in industry, we should realise that if there is any adverse trade movement and if overtime ceases, there will be one of the greatest waves of industrial unrest this country has known for many years, because people will be back on the basic rate of engineering wages. This is something of which the House should take note, and with which we ought to concern ourselves.
The emphasis since 1945 has, very properly, been on increased production and productivity. The man who can pull a lever more times per hour than other men gets the largest reward in production bonuses. That is very necessary to our balance of payments and export problems, but it brings in its wake a great many more problems about which I am concerned and about which I hope the House will be concerned.
On the Birmingham City Council we have the task, as have hon. Members on other local authorities, of running public services. It is becoming more and more difficult to run public services properly if the negotiating authorities concerned with public services are not willing to face the reality of high wages, overtime earnings and production bonuses—problems which have to be faced in Birmingham and in similar towns. It also means the public awakening to the fact that it can no longer expect people to man the buses, or nurses or porters to work in hospitals, 1578 or black-coated workers to work in industry on ordinary basic wages, while others engaged actively on the production front can enjoy such a large share in the prosperity of the country and those I have mentioned do not.
As one who has been on the commercial side of industry, and as a member of the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, I am concerned about the problem of getting more people into the commercial side of industry. I believe that both sides of industry are neglecting this problem, and that it is a serious matter. The firm for which I have been working for some time had to advertise for a considerable period to get juniors into the firm. We found that juniors with the General Certificate of Education will not take office work because, generally, office workers are not sharing in the prosperity which the rest of the country enjoys.
I was pleased to hear an hon. Member opposite, in making a maiden speech, say that we have to recognise crafts and skills and do something about them. In our union we put forward a grading proposal to the Engineering and Allied Employers Federation, but that body would have nothing to do with it. If industry is not prepared to face the problem of paying more to people who do not have a production bonus, in years to come it will have to pay a heavy price for its present blindness. I therefore hope that before it is too late we can have a sensible policy on this matter. I hope we shall realise that the task of administration in engineering and industry is of great importance and that we should try again to attract people into administration. There seems to be a feeling in some quarters that one may become a scientific worker or a technical man first and pick up administration later. I do not subscribe to that view at all; I think it extremely dangerous and I feel justified in referring to it here today.
As a member of the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, may I be forgiven for hoping that on this occasion the Government will do something about the Gowers Report as it affects office workers. Repeated inquiries have been made and repeated assurances have been given to the T.U.C., but there is nothing about it in the Queen's Speech and we feel that here the Government is letting us down. Thousands of small offices are 1579 slum offices and slum offices are just as bad as slum houses. I am delighted that the Government are to tackle slum houses. I hope they will continue with the logical step of tackling slum factories and slum offices, about which we are very concerned.
I wish to say a word or two about the negotiating machinery as it affects local government and engineering. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley) referred to this matter in his maiden speech. I believe it is extremely important. We have to streamline negotiating machinery for dealing with industrial disputes. I am not making a point of this from one side of industry; I believe both sides should look into the matter. When a dispute arises from work on the factory floor, by the time it has gone through the whole circle of local conference, district conference, national conference, arbitration, and national disputes tribunal, one wonders what has happened to the original dispute. Frustration causes a festering sore in industry and local government.
We in the Birmingham City Council try to face this problem. We wanted to pay a craftsman in the transport industry 2d. an hour more because we realised that the rates there bore no relation to similar work in industry. Our case was turned down, although we claimed that we knew the local circumstances. We were expelled from the Employers' Federation of the Municipal Passenger Transport Association eighteen months afterwards, but Birmingham City Council was so disgusted that it paid the 2d. an hour extra. It is no longer a member of that body.
We had the same problem when we wanted to give more money to manual workers. It took a long time, but eventually our case was agreed. All that time there was unrest among public servants, unrest in the transport department, unrest in the public works and salvage departments—all those important departments without which the industry of Birmingham would be of no avail, for they are part and parcel of the great effort we have to put forth in the city.
In the Midlands we had a classic example of this kind of thing. A man was driving a bulldozer of more than 40 horsepower and rates had been laid down 1580 by national negotiation for 40 horsepower vehicles. The local authority asked permission to pay 1d. an hour more and the matter was discussed in the council, which agreed. It was discussed at local joint industrial council level, went to national joint industrial council level and then came back to the local scene, but still no one has decided whether the local authority can pay 1d. an hour more for the extra work the man had to do. That sort of thing is not good enough. It is indicative of the frustration and breaking of confidence in joint negotiating machinery which we all deplore.
On the engineering side, there is a procedure agreement known as the York memorandum. Many hon. Members will be aware of it. When it was first introduced in 1920 it was called a provision for avoiding disputes, but I cannot believe that a procedure memorandum of 1920 is of very great use today in the world of 1955. I think there must be an overwhelming case for having a look at it. Under the agreement unions are not partners, but applicants. I believe that they should be partners.
We should not have unions going forward to try to get grievances and disputes settled. That leads to a very great sense of frustration which, I believe, is one of the main causes of disputes in the engineering sphere. We have to get confidence in joint negotiation by making it work smoothly and—which is more important —swiftly. I believe that the national disputes tribunal and the arbitration tribunal will not be needed so much in the future as in the past if we recognise local conditions and get more local action. The present trend seems to be to pass the baby on to be dealt with by another body.
In future, we shall face these problems in increasing measure as we get atomic power in industry and electronics in commercial offices. They will become more and more important. They will throw up, very acutely, the man-wife problem to which I have referred. We have to do very hard thinking on these problems—on both sides of industry and in this Chamber. We have no room for complacency. I still believe that eternal vigilance is extremely necessary if industrial relations are to be successful. I am quite certain that what we have not to do is to talk about making strikes illegal, or of secret ballots, or anything of the sort.
1581 We want some rethinking on these problems in order to try to stop delays, to get local action more than national action and to get confidence so that the man on the factory floor, or working for the city or county council can see what has happened to his grievance and where it has been debated. He must virtually be in on the discussions rather than remote from them, as at present. This is the most important thing that we have to do at this juncture in our industrial life and I hope that the House—the Government as well as the Opposition—will give close attention to it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
I am very happy that it falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) on his most distinguished and fluent maiden speech. The hon. Member comes, I understand, as a councillor and as one experienced in industry from a city which has long been a nursery of distinguished politicians on both sides of this House, and he adds yet more distinction to that long list.
I was particularly appreciative of the hon. Member's comments about the position of office workers, because in the constituency which I represent many of my supporters are office workers who come up to London daily to work in offices. I agree that these people have not shared pro rata in the increasing prosperity of the nation. When the hon. Member referred to the slum offices, however, I thought he was on less sure ground, because although slum offices undoubtedly exist, we must remember that people occupy them for perhaps 40 hours a week, whereas in the slum houses, to which the Government are giving their attention, the time during which they are occupied, at any rate by the housewife, is more like 20 hours a day. However, that does not detract from the point that the hon. Member was making, and I hope and am sure that we shall have many such excellent contributions from him in the future.
I should like to revert for a moment to the subject of the railway strike, which has not been mentioned for about five speeches. Whatever one's views about that strike, most people would agree that it was certainly an unnecessary strike. Settlement of it on the terms that have 1582 now been agreed could most certainly have been reached without any strike at all. I do not know who is considered to have won the strike but it must be obvious to us all that it is the public and the nation who have lost it.
My constituents are the sort of people, I suppose like many of us in this Chamber, who are at the receiving end of these disputes. There were certain features of this latest dispute which they understood but there were others which they did not understand. On this point I agree very much with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who in his interesting speech complained that the public were not really fully informed of some of the issues.
I think that people all knew and understood that the A.S.L.E.F. claim was founded upon the principle of the differential rather than upon any concern about cash. It was a principle which, I suppose, most of us would support, but it was contested by the N.U.R. and it seemed likely at one time to lead to a never-ending leapfrog as each union prepared to cap the concession that might have been made to the other. In those circumstances, it would be difficult to blame the Transport Commission for its reluctance to negotiate a settlement which, in that atmosphere, could not have been a settlement at all.
There was sympathy with Mr. Baty's claim for a differential. Indeed, the Transport Commission had always recognised that principle. What the public did not know—and, I think, do not know now—was what exactly the differential should be. Of course, one grade should be paid more than another, but how much more? What should be the degree of differential, and what are the relative skills of the engine driver, the signalman, the fireman and so on? That is the sort of factor about which the public are not informed, even today, about which I am not informed, and about which, I expect, many hon. Members are rather vague in their minds.
The unions, at any rate, could not agree on that and they refused a conciliation board before the strike, although they accepted a conciliator or referee after the strike. Lord Justice Morris was brought in and suggested a cash settlement which has been accepted. But will that be the final answer? Is 1583 that the end of all the disputes about differentials for the future? I hope very much that it is, but I cannot think so. I think we are being too optimistic if we make that assumption.
Now that the strike is over, I wonder very much whether it would not be useful for the Government to set up a quite limited committee of inquiry, not the rather grander sort of committee to which the right hon. Member for Easington and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) referred, but a rather more limited inquiry under the chairmanship, perhaps, of somebody like Lord Terrington or someone experienced in independent industrial inquiries of that kind, which would go into the question of the relative differentials and would report on what the relative position should be for the various grades and categories for the future. A report of this nature might well prove to be the basis of a permanent solution of the differential issue. The task is a difficult one, but without it we might go right back to the same issue that we had so very recently in the rail strike.
Of course, there could be a much larger inquiry on a grander scale, as has been suggested in this debate, with far wider terms of reference and a wider composition, which might go into the whole field of industrial relations. It is of course true that until industrial relations can be improved, the threat to our national prosperity must inevitably continue.
That is a matter which concerns the unions. Indeed, it concerns us all. It is not any political party which is on trial in this matter today. I think it is fair to say that it is trade unionism which is on trial before the nation today.
§ Mr. Fisher
We can say it both ways. The hon. Member can say that what he describes as our sort of society is on trial, but I can say also that there is great responsibility on the trade unions. Anyhow, whoever is on trial, it is the prosperity of the nation which is at stake. I hope that in so far as it lies within their power to make a contribution—and they have made many contributions—the great unions will respond to this challenge and put their house in order.
1584 I should have liked the unions voluntarily to accept the idea of a secret ballot. I agree that it is no part of the Government's task to impose that upon the unions by legislation—that would be wrong; but I hope that the trade unions might consider it individually as a voluntary practice which they should adopt.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Member appreciates, of course, that a secret ballot on strikes has been written into the constitutions of many unions for a long time. We usually get this blanket assertion based on the blind ignorance of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Fisher
I did not intend to make a blanket assertion, and I expressly excluded the question of Government legislation because I was aware of the point that the hon. Member makes. Nevertheless, a great many unions do not proceed by secret ballot. It is an idea which might be thought over again. It would not prevent genuine strikes. If there was a heavy ballot majority for strike action, it would positively strengthen the hand of a union in its demands.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Having got a ballot to begin a strike, would the hon. Member then want a ballot to terminate that strike?
§ Mr. Fisher
That is a fair point. I had not thought it out. If we ask for the one, I suppose we could legitimately go back to the men for the other; but that would interfere somewhat with the ordinary negotiating machinery.
§ Mr. Fisher
No, I do not think the first one would interfere with it.
I was much encouraged by the line taken by Mr. Cooper, of the General and Municipal Workers' Union, who seemed to me rather to favour this idea. He said, in effect, that the right to strike could only be retained if it was respected, and would be undermined if it was abused. He said also that the strike weapon should be the last resort after all negotiation had failed. I think that was a very courageous speech for a man in Mr. Cooper's position to make, and I think that the public as a whole agreed with it and was sympathetic to the line which he took.
1585 There is a tremendous public interest in this matter. I can truthfully say that in my constituency during the Election there was not a single public meeting at which the question of strikes and suggestions of secret ballots, and so on, was not raised. I am told that some leading trade unionists, who know more about these things than I do, are against secret ballots because they think that they would interfere with the independence of the unions. But what about the independence of the individual member of the trade union? Is he not entitled to some consideration in this matter?
I gather that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is against secret ballots, and so is the "Daily Worker"; but what about the public? Is the community as a whole not entitled to some sort of protection against a show-of-hands vote of a reckless minority?
§ Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)
Does the hon. Member suggest that the general public should also have a secret ballot to say whether the workmen should strike?
§ Mr. Fisher
The general public do have a secret ballot. It is the secret ballot which sends us to this House. There is nothing undemocratic about it.
§ Mr. Fisher
To say that is why we have strikes is a little below the right hon. Gentleman's usual form.
I feel that mob oratory plus a show-of-hands vote is not a particularly good way of deciding on strike action, because the issues for the country as a whole are much too serious to be governed in that haphazard way when deciding matters of this importance.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House of any organisations outside the dock trades where they have a ballot decided by "mob oratory" and a show of hands? Does he know how these things happen in the ordinary trade union?
§ Mr. Fisher
I did not mean to be as controversial as this. I was only putting forward the point made by Mr. Cooper, a respected leader of the Trade Union movement. His words, which I have quoted, did at least lend a good deal of 1586 colour to my suggestion that secret ballots would be a good thing if carried out, not by legislation, but by the voluntary action of the unions. There is nothing undemocratic about that. That is the way in which the people who send us here vote, and I do not know why hon. Members opposite get so excited when they hear it suggested.
I think that people are very concerned when they see in the Press, as I saw some time ago, that nearly 400 men at one garage had come out on strike on a show-of-hands vote at a meeting at which only 33 men were present. I think that sort of thing is rather alarming to hear about, and the public are rather concerned about it. I do not suggest for a moment —it would be wrong to suggest it—that there is any question of intimidation, but one knows more or less the sort of thing that probably happens.
I have never been present at one of these meetings and so I stand to be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman, but I imagine that this is the sort of thing that happens when it comes to a vote. On the right, Bill puts up his hand, on the left Harry puts up his hand, and one is the little guy in the middle. One is looking round to see how one's mates are going to vote. They are also looking round to see how the others are going to vote, because no one particularly wants to be the odd man out. I imagine that that has happened before and I think that it is perfectly possible that it could happen.
§ Mr. Fisher
That is the point. Each man is looking round because he does not want to be the odd man out. Gradually, rather slowly and, perhaps, rather reluctantly, one's hand goes up too and the strike is on, although it may be that the majority of people present do not really want it and it may have been inspired by a comparatively small Communist minority, for all I know. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] At any rate, in the case that I quoted, it was inspired by 33 men, who got 400 men out. So this is the sort of thing that could happen.
I am sorry that I appear to be so controversial because I did not realise that I was being controversial. I am rather appalled by the reactions from the other side of the House. It may be said, if 1587 this hypothetical case happened, that these men showed a lack of moral courage. I do not blame them for that. Which one of us has not shown a lack of moral courage, probably on many occasions, during his life, in a different context. That would not be fair criticism at all. I am sure that many of the men who come out on strike on a show-of-hands vote do not want to strike. It must be a very hard decision for a man to forgo his wages. I am quite sure that he realises full well that a strike is the worst possible thing for himself, for his wife and family, for his trade union, for the public, and for the nation as a whole.
I feel—and I submit this with the greatest diffidence and not as a controversial suggestion—that a secret ballot would help if it were a voluntary one, conducted by a union of its own accord, and that there would then be fewer strikes because one could have confidence in the good sense and good character of the men themselves.
I believe that a secret ballot might well have shortened the dock strike. The dock strike is perhaps the most serious thing that we are considering today. When the trains stop the nation can use the roads but when the ships stop our export trade stops, too. I had a letter this morning from a constituent—one example of many —who is the director of an export company which bought thousands of pounds worth of goods for export on the strength of credits opened in London. The goods were not shipped and the credits expired. The foreign customers are not renewing the credits, and have gone elsewhere for the goods. There must be thousands of cases in the country of that kind.
We know that ships have gone back unloaded. Some ships had to take meat and butter back again to New Zealand, and each time that happens it must mean that cargoes of British exports are left behind. I feel that it is a strange policy on the part of the dockers, who must know full well that the less goods we export the less goods there are for them to handle, and that must bring nearer the threat of unemployment, not only for them, but for their fellow workers in the industries, making export goods.
I should like to mention one smaller point which has not been referred to today. It is a rather unpleasant matter, 1588 but I think that it should be mentioned in this debate. The Transport Commission have reinstated the men who were sacked from the railways. There has been no victimisation at all, so far as I know, by the Commission. But there has been some victimisation by the strikers against the man who stayed at work. Some of the reports we read about this sort of thing are extremely distressing.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he is introducing a subject which is highly dangerous. I would suggest that he is quoting exceptions. It is not the rule.
§ Mr. Fisher
Of course it is not the rule. It would be a slur on the whole character of our people to suggest that it is the rule.
All of us have seen in the Press, however, very distressing reports of this kind of retaliatory action, which is unfair, unkind and spiteful, against men whose only crime is that they have stayed at work. I do not want to make things worse, and I appreciate the point of what the hon. Gentleman says. I only mention the matter because I think that people who have had retaliatory action of that kind taken against them deserve to have someone in this House stand up for them and say that he thinks it is a disgraceful thing.
I think that, generally, the public recognise and respect the great sense of statesmanship which inspires the distinguished leaders of the trade union movement of this country at the present time. I believe that the public also look to the unions at this crucial period in our industrial relations to rise, as they so often have done in the past, to the special responsibilities which their great authority and influence in the State have imposed upon them.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. William Stones (Consett)
I, too, am a new Member, and I also crave the indulgence of this House for this, my first speech here. Some aspects of the subject under consideration can be regarded as very controversial. I have no intention of being controversial in this speech and shall try to avoid being so, however difficult that may be.
I, too, am a miner from the County of Durham, and I am proud of the fact. 1589 I have lived and worked amongst miners all my life. For most of the last five years I have travelled various mines daily as a mines inspector. There are eighteen collieries in my district, some where the working conditions are quite good, others where the working conditions are not so good—are, indeed, very poor. With this experience behind me I think I can claim with some modesty to know something about the Durham miners at least, and quite a bit, too, of miners in general, for there is really little fundamental difference between miners anywhere. Indeed, that may be true of workers in any occupation.
One thing that can be said of our men in the mining industry is that they are solidly welded together in their trade union. Furthermore, I think it true to say that by far the greater number of the men are loyal, not only to their union, but equally loyal to the nation, in both peace and war. We are very appreciative of all that has been done in the way of improvement of the working conditions in our mines, largely by the efforts of the union to which we belong. That is not to say that we are entirely free from disturbances in our industrial relations, the subject of this debate.
The purpose of this debate is, I hope, to find ways and means likely to improve industrial relations and the avoidance of industrial disturbances which so adversely affect the economic welfare of our country. The subject of industrial relations is a very wide one, and there are many things that could be considered when we are discussing it; for example, wages, hours of work, conditions of work, and so on; but, being desirous of not being controversial, I shall refrain from referring to those aspects of industrial relations, which may be very contentious matters.
There is one question, however, that I can refer to without, I think, raising the ire of hon. Members on either side of this House, and that is the question of human relations in industry. I believe that that aspect of industrial relations is of paramount importance. It is quite usual for very big fires to be started in a small way. Quite often the same can be said of industrial disturbances. It is probably true to say that some stoppages of work during the last few years, even in my own industry, which have eventually become 1590 quite alarming, originated in a small way, and could have been averted if knowledge and understanding of the inherent wants of mankind had been displayed by those in authority.
There was a time in our industrial history, not so very long ago, when the fear of losing one's job and of unemployment had a restraining effect on a man's actions, whatever his grievances. That time has gone—for ever, I hope. With the changing economic circumstances comes the need for more knowledgeable management of men. I suggest, therefore, the pursuit of knowledge regarding human relations in industry. A start has been made in some industries in that direction. In the coal industry a start is certainly being made, and it will eventually bear fruit.
I know that there are people on both sides of industry who pooh-pooh the idea of the study of human relations, regard it as psychological nonsense, and look upon its advocates as cranks. This is an ever-changing world, however, and we must change our ideas to suit the changing circumstances, and I hope that this idea will be welcome to both sides in industry and will be developed in our industries.
I should like to say a word about the trade unions and the part which they play in industry. No one, I am sure, will deny that the trade unions are absolutely essential, not only for the well-being of their members, but also for the welfare of the nation as a whole. Without collective bargaining, made possible by the very existence of trade unions, I believe that we should have utter chaos in industry. Our trade union leaders in the main do a good job of work in this respect—a fact sometimes overlooked by many people who ought to know better.
There are times, of course, when relations between employers and employees are very strained, particularly when wages and conditions of work are the subjects of dispute. At such times it may be that direct action is taken by the employees and a stoppage of work occurs despite the efforts of the trade unions to bring about a settlement. I would say to all concerned that full use of the conciliation machinery should be made, and that immediately anything in the nature of a grievance arises it should 1591 be dealt with, as one of my hon. Friends has said. If the processes of the existing conciliation machinery are too slow, as is quite often alleged, let us have the machinery examined and overhauled at once with a view to quickening up the processes.
There should be no political interference with the present rights and rules of any trade union. Any Government, in my opinion, interfering with the trade unions in that way would do more harm than good. Where there are difficulties in the framework of the trade unions, the trade union members are themselves the only persons capable of getting over them, and interference of any sort from outside would cause very strong resentment in the trade union world.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I am very lucky to have the chance to congratulate the hon. Member for Con-sett (Mr. Stones) on his maiden speech. I was astonished at the ease with which he addressed the House, because I can remember only too well the terror which assailed me when I had to make my maiden speech. Indeed, I waited four months after coming into the House before making that speech. I feel that the easy way in which the hon. Member addressed this House is a measure of what we may expect from him in the future.
I am very much in agreement with the theme of the hon. Member's speech, because so much of the shortcomings in our industrial relations now arise from faulty human relations. I have always believed in what is called "the personal touch." I have tried to learn as much as I could of industrial relations, first, during the war and now in a firm of public relations consultants; and, of course, it is said that politics is the art of trying to achieve results by compromise between many conflicting interests and deeply held opinions.
I submit that we must get the problem of strikes, both official and unofficial, in its correct proportion. Statistics show that by far the largest number of the industrial negotiations that take place are successful and do not end in a strike. I would ask hon. Members, however, to consider with me some of the causes of, and perhaps some of the long-term cures 1592 which might be applied to, the problem of official and unofficial strikes.
Have we really yet fully understood the chief problems of full employment? We know quite a lot about unemployment, but full employment brings its own particular difficulties, too. In the first place, one can say that in times of full employment there is little danger of losing a job and I imagine that unions find it much easier to make demands. Unions themselves also find that they are in a stronger financial position. Members are not in arrears and, we hope, they also have savings.
What is the attitude of the firms themselves? In times of full employment we know that many firms cannot retain their export markets unless they stick to firm delivery dates, to which they are often under contract with penalties. That means that a strike represents a cost much greater to the firm than the actual output lost. It is also true to say that in times of full employment stocks held are often not very high and, therefore, a strike will hit other firms very much more. The conclusion, therefore, is that as economic knowledge now exists to retain full or near-full employment, and we also have to expand our economy in a competitive world if we are to live, we must expect as normal that people will be more ready to make demands and expect also as normal the possibility that strikes will occur for many years to come.
What are the nature of the demands? I hope we have all noted that the latest strike—that is, ignoring the docks strike for a moment—was not really a strike based on a claim of necessity, or the availability of profits, but a strike based on prestige. In 1914, for example, engine drivers received a basic wage which was double that of porters, but this year they have a basic wage which is only 30 per cent. higher. Therefore, the motive at work among strikers is surely not a desire to maintain differentials between various industries, such as between coal mining and agriculture, either in proportion to their social importance or to the skill involved, but a desire to maintain prestige in the industry in which a man or woman works. I submit that that is why it is not a national wage structure that arouses interest, but rather a wage structure within a particular industry.
1593 Modern industrial relations are, of course, very swiftly changing the rôle of the unions. Many of the recent disputes have not had as their root cause disputes between management and men. The disputes have been between unions and have ended up in disputes against management. By far the most serious is the docks strike which, I submit, it is for the unions to resolve. All of us welcome very much the energy and skill with which the T.U.C. has tackled this very difficult problem and also the statement which Mr. Geddes made yesterday.
What about the growing power of the unions? Mr. Sam Watson has said:Economic power has since 1945 slowly passed into the orbit of the trade union movement. It no longer resides in the board room of the employers.Greater power always brings greater responsibility. If the trade unions are really to be the Fourth Estate of the Realm, the responsibility with which they are charged to serve the public interest is as great as that with which they are charged to serve their own members.
I suggest that the causes which give rise to strikes are not always clearly seen by the members themselves. In the days when people made claims against a single management, their claims were limited by the fact that they did not want their employer to go out of business. They could not ask for more than he could afford to pay. Today, the claims are often made against a whole industry or, in the case of a nationalised concern, against the State. Increases are met in part by raising the prices of goods or services, or indeed by increased taxation. Today, a strike often inflicts no injury at all upon the employer. The salaries of the British Transport Commission go on whether there is a strike or not. A modern strike always injures the public either directly or indirectly through its effect on the economy. Therefore, the modern strike is a strike against society.
What about the official strike? Why do men and women strike? We must recognise that a strike has an overwhelming advantage because it nearly always works. At the very least it brings urgent consideration of a claim. Therefore, one is led to ask whether employers—in this case the Transport Commission—go out of their way to seek out a problem and look at it before it grows out of all proportion. There is no doubt about it that 1594 a strike has in it an element of blackmail. The danger is that the threat of a strike nowadays gets so strong a response that one feels that threats are made sometimes when there is no desire to strike.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Then sometimes, if the bluff is called, the strike has to take place in order to save face, just as, in diplomacy, if an extreme position is taken up it is sometimes difficult to retreat from it.
People talk a great deal about Communist action in unofficial strikes. It may be true that in some cases Communists have worked themselves into an official position, but we pay them a great compliment if we say that Communists are at the root of all unofficial strikes in the country, though it is true that they are ever ready to exploit such a situation.
May I suggest one reason why men and women repudiate agreements which have been made in their name? It is perhaps because their leaders have not discovered what the men and women really want or have not explained the nature of the agreement made in their name. I submit that there is a very great field for improving personal relations, or human relations as they are called, in this respect within industry.
It has been said that some unions are too big. It is often suggested in this House and outside it that industrial units as such can be too large. I put it to the House that it could also be said, perhaps, that unions are too large. There are 417 registered trade unions and the majority of serious disputes have occurred in the N.U.M., N.U.R., E.T.U., A.E.U. and the dock unions, all of which, generally speaking, are large unions.
It is a common complaint among union leaders that members vote at times against agreements made in their name. Such actions strike a blow at the very roots of trade unionism. I submit that some of the trouble is due not only to the size of the unions, but also to the complexity of modern industrial relations. As we all know, a very great change has been made in the demands made on branch officials since the war. It is not only a question of their being concerned with pay packets, welfare and the like. Members feel entitled to show an interest in many 1595 great issues, such as whether management should close a factory, questions of production, whether or not promotion is just, and many other aspects which can be canvassed in joint consultation committees, of which, personally, I am a strong supporter.
But the result of all this has surely thrown very great pressure on the union officials themselves, and it must be very hard for them to get through all the work that is entailed, and it must lead to a lack of the personal touch. The more a union leader is aware of the wider economic implications of union policy for the country as a whole, the more of an industrial statesman does he become, the more the gap widens between those who study these things and those who do not.
It is often said that there is no attendance at branch meetings, and Mr. Openshaw, President of the A.E.U., speaking to its National Committee, said:There are lamentably few enthusiasts to take jobs.He fearedthat the organisation would slow down for want of members willing to take on the hundred and one offices and delegateships that are vital to the life of the movementIf that is so, that must mean more work for the union leaders, and must, logically, lead to the failure of the democratic processes of election.
The hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), who made his maiden speech a short time ago, spoke about the increasing number of women in this field. It is quite true that they are one-third of those working, and that 47 per cent. are married. That must mean that, because they have these family responsibilities, they also are unable to attend branch meetings very often. As it was a maiden speech by the hon. Member, I will not challenge it, except to say, in passing, that I think it is a good thing that women should play their part in industry if able to do so and if they so wish.
I think we are driven to the conclusion that, if the leaders of unions are to keep contact with their members, the questions of attendance at meetings, the size of the unions, their growing responsibilities, and, of course, domestic subjects, such as inter-union relationships, are matters of very great concern to the public at large.
1596 What about cures, which is a much bigger task? I think that in this immensely difficult problem we must not forget that modern British society has established the strike as the organised method of expressing industrial discontent. If society does not like the strike, it must find another way of expressing disapproval and of ensuring speedy consideration of a solution to the problem which is at least as effective as the strike.
Would it be possible to have improved arbitration machinery which might consider such questions as inter-union disputes, because such machinery is now only concerned with questions between unions and managements regarding money and conditions? All of us, I am sure, welcome the trade unions' decision to take a much more active part in trying to settle these disputes, where they can. I would also welcome very much the consultations which have taken place at No. 10 between all sides of industry, and I wish that we had been able to hear a little more about them during the debate this afternoon.
Another suggestion has been made that men and women should not be allowed to repudiate agreements made in their name and that unofficial strikes should be prohibited. I do not agree. I do not think it could be enforced, and, secondly, I think it is unrealistic. I think it would result in more go-slow and in smouldering frustration which would do infinitely more damage to industrial relations. In any case, it is possible that unofficial strikes may become official, because, in these circumstances, the leaders may not wish their members to incur legal penalties, or, may be, see them driven into a rival union.
A suggestion which has been canvassed is that there should be a secret ballot of 75 per cent. of the members involved before a strike is declared, and it is one that I will support if it can be voluntarily negotiated. I think that the whole of our attitude to industrial relations in this House, no matter from which party we come, should be to try to get agreement on those matters that are absolutely vital to the life of the country. I think it is essential that there should be the greatest share in the knowledge of the working and the success of industry and of the wider factors that govern such 1597 success, because I think that then men and women would hesitate very long before resorting to a strike, and that must end in wiser and healthier industrial relations.
I am in entire agreement with the suggestion of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about helping them in profit sharing, because we see what has happened in America. American unions are playing a much greater part in industry. The mineworkers' union there recently secured two banks in Washington, while the electrical workers' union invested four million dollars to obtain control of a life insurance company. They realise the true meaning of "invest in success" and I submit to this House that they would hesitate a very long time before damaging that success.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The American trade unions believe in the lightning strike without a ballot and on a scale unknown in this country. I would ask the noble Lady to give the whole picture. I do not go the whole way with her.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Unlike the hon. Member, I would not accept all aspects of American industry. I take the best.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
Does the noble Lady know that the ratio of hours lost and days lost in America is about four times greater than that in this country?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think the hon. Member will realise that the question of investing in industry which I am bringing to the attention of the House is a very stabilising factor, because if the trade unions do invest in industry—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or an insurance company?"] Well, after all, it is a good thing to have control of a life insurance company if one looks at it from the point of view of the trade unions.
It all boils down to the fact that we have to have a very much closer and much more real study of human relations, as far as the trade unions, the employers, the Government and everybody else are concerned. It is no good saying that we intend to study this matter. We must want to study it. We really must believe in the human factor in industry. We have to believe very sincerely that there is a personal relationship which has to count and which matters.
1598 I would suggest that the employer must try to go out of his way to look for grievances, not wait until they come about, to seek them out and try to tackle the grievance on a personal basis before it amounts to a bigger grievance. The potential striker, if he really wants to know more about industry and its wider implications, must change his attitude towards the strike weapon.
The public must make known their views on the strike through their unions, through their M.P.s and through all the media of public discussion, because British law has always sought to protect the innocent. In the grave strikes which have involved whole industries it will be found that many people involved were in no way included in the original arguments.
I suggest that Government and Parliament should examine the structure of the nationalised industries and their arrangements for dealing with personal problems, because I do not think that we have got to the bottom of that. We have to press on by all the means open to us to make plain that a strike could seriously damage our economy. I was in Hamburg at the end of last year and the beginning of this year and I saw the result of the last London dock strike. How many firms are having their repair work done in Hamburg? We have all read in the papers—I will not quote cases because it would take up too much time—of contracts that have gone to the shipyards there for repair work and new ships because of quicker delivery dates and shorter working time.
We have to realise that a strike has a very profound effect on the whole of our attitude to work as such. We all talk about the vital necessity to remove restrictive practices wherever they exist. We face hard-working and ambitious competitors and there appears at the present time to be a genuine wish to get rid of restrictive practices wherever they are found. But widespread and prolonged strikes seriously injure our competitive power, and if it is seen that we have a shrinking economy then I suggest that the restriction bug will infect us again. The nation is only now getting out of the period of the restriction attitude, and we dare not risk going back to it.
1599 I therefore say that in whatever sphere we find ourselves we have to work for better industrial relations. It is only through the human personal contact that we have any hope of realising that potential power to create the wealth in which we all eventually can share.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Lady for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) because I found her academic and unreal. She has adopted what I would call a completely bookish approach to this issue. I should have thought that the first job for this country to do in this matter would have been to examine the private industry sector to see that its modes of consultation and public relations were as good as those in the Civil Service, in local government, and in the nationalised industries. At the present time private industry lags far behind.
I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends connected with the railway industry have not so far been called to participate in this debate.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am not making my maiden speech in this Parliament, and I do not suffer from the humility of thinking that it was necessarily a bad thing that I was called. I am merely expressing regret that some of my hon. Friends who have something to contribute on this subject have not yet spoken. I shall certainly be glad to listen to them, but, on the other hand, I hope they will forgive me if I do not deal with the railway strike, on which they are better informed than I am, except to say that I represent a railway constituency.
I join with my hon. Friends from the railway industry in generally thinking that the late Arthur Deakin would have made a much better chief of the Imperial General Staff than General Sir Brian Robertson has made of the job of chief of the British Transport Commission. This peculiar capacity for dumping generals into jobs for which they were never intended continues the poppycock started under the Labour Government and continued under this Government. 1600 The sooner we get down to appointing people who know something about the job the better.
This afternoon we had a statement from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour saying that there should be an inquiry into the whole system of industrial relationships, and he said that there should be a feeling of an upsurge of responsibility in all our people. I wonder how that squares with private industry, because hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their usual predilections against the nationalised industries, have left private industry alone.
Let me take as an example the engineering industry, the biggest industry in our country, in which three million people are employed. My hon. Friend the Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) made a passing reference to it. What is the joint consultation in that industry at the present time? If there is joint consultation throughout the whole of the public sector of industry, there is no general consultation affecting these three million workers. Why is there none? Because the employers will not have it. Throughout the whole history of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which celebrated its centenary in 1951, the employers have always held that the managerial functions are theirs and theirs alone and only they have the right to control them.
It is curious that this mentality is 58 years old. In the great strike of 1897, when the engineers were bludgeoned back to work after nine months, the Federated Employers' stated—and I quote this because it is still their policy today:The Federated Employers' … will admit no interference with the management of their business, and reserve the right to introduce into any federated workshop"—I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South is listening to this—at the option of the employer concerned, any conditions of labour under which any members of the trade unions here represented were working at the commencement of the dispute in any of the workshops of the Federated Employers.I remember that it was the last year of my apprenticeship, because my apprenticeship was broken, as I would not be a blackleg.
I remember the dispute of 1922, when we were locked out for four months because we asked for the right to take 1601 part in managerial functions. We are the only union which has fought a great battle for an abstract principle not concerned with wages, and we were beaten after four months. It was the hon. Gentlemen who sat on the benches opposite who voted against an inquiry into that dispute at that time. It is on the records.
Men with famous names spoke from these benches on that subject. J. R. Clynes, Robert Young, Arthur Henderson, and others, made speeches then which, if they were made today, would be made by the present Minister of Labour. Do not let us forget that only through the very slow process of disenchantment have hon. Members opposite come to believe in workers' conciliation under the impact of full employment, which was never realised in a hundred years of capitalism, and which hitherto has only been maintained under three conditions that of war, the threat of war, and the discovery of new goldfields. Cyclical employment has the recurring condition. It is only now when, with an over-full market and full employment owing to the law of supply and demand, the workers are in a position to demand their heritage, and that we get civility from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
They did not want it. They did not want it only a few years ago—during the war. The gentleman who succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Member for Birmingham, West, I believe his name was Higgs, was speaking about empty bellies making Britons work. Hon. Members opposite are on record time after time about what they would do if ever they took the reins of power again; but they were returned with a small majority and they found the trade unions one of the real Estates of the Realm. People like my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), as a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, is now courted by the people opposite.
It is rather curious that at the end of 1922 the employers again said that they had the right tomanage their own establishments and the trade unions had the right to exercise their own functions.That was reaffirmed only last month. Like the Bourbons, they have never learned anything. I ask the House to believe that 1602 we are sitting in a shadow of a new industrial revolution, when new processes will be introduced, when men will change jobs, when traditional skills will be discarded, when men will be degraded. Not all differentials are monetary. There are differentials of pride, differentials of prestige, differentials based on apprenticeship; and the craftsman is still—at heart —one of the proudest people in the country.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot give a single instance in nationalised industries in which relations are as bad as in the engineering industry. At present, employers—and this is the real stuff and not academic stuff—give ten days' notice of their intention to start any new practice, to re-grade work, to denote labour, to alter the processes of a machine. This is under the great A.E.U. There is nothing sub judice and keeping the status quo about this. The workers can do nothing about it and the boss goes right ahead.
The union can take disputes to a works conference and then to a local conference, and then a central conference is always held at York, so that the phrase "Go to York" has a significance in the engineering industry and is part of a language which I could not quote here. This procedure takes six weeks, and the change is introduced whether the workers like it or not. Yet we hear nonsense about hasty action and unofficial strikes and secret polls which we already have in the rules of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.
Unofficial action springs mostly from frustration and delay and the irritant of partial processes, patent injustices and procrastination. I have never been a full-time trade union official. I was a convener shop steward on the factory floor. Looking back over my lifetime, the actions I would justify—most springing from injustices—were largely unofficial strikes. I say that although I deplore it.
I remember a new secretary to the company being appointed. He knew nothing about this slow process by which we built up our relationship. When I asked him on the telephone why a wage advance of 3s. on national application had not come through after three months he cut me off. The whole shop and the whole dock stopped, and three hours later he had to apologise. That is the sort of 1603 stupidity which causes strikes, and the people who blah, blah about strikes, like the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who talked about moral cowards, should remember that. Some of us who fought those battles of the shops could tell him about that.
We say that employers should not be in a position to force changes until there has been an exhaustive procedure with the trade unions. Six weeks is too long to wait; we should be joint partners. I remember going to Morris Motors after victimisation in the General Strike. At that time Morris Motors did not have a single man in the A.E.U., except myself, among 150 fitters. No man in the Nuffield organisation dared to belong to trade unions in those days. When Morris's changed from the bull-nosed radiator to the flat-nosed radiator—some veteran motorists may remember it; it was a period when the company went over to mass production—the whole of the factory, with the exception of the repair department and rejects department, went "on the Labour Exchange" for a couple of months, without money, argument, or consultations with the trade unions.
§ Mr. Summers
I merely want to ask whether, if the hon. Member must point, he need constantly point at me.
§ Mr. Pannell
It was not deliberate. When I look at the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) I am reminded of Oscar Wilde, when he said, "One of those most ordinary, commonplace English faces once seen never remembered."
At that time the Nuffield organisation —it was before Lord Nuffield became a Peer—closed down the whole factory without any consultations with trade unions and put men on the stones for a couple of months. That is the sort of heritage into which we have come and the sort of practical experience that we have known.
The Engineering Employers' Federation stands on one side and the Confederation of Engineering Unions—39 unions—on the other, and there is no statutory machinery at all for settling disputes. In 1948, there were proposals put forward by us for a joint council for 1604 the industry but they were rejected by the employers. I ask hon. Members to read the other inquiry which was conducted by Lord Justice Morris on that point, and which came down emphatically on the side of the trade unions.
The Minister of Labour has to do something more than utter the pious platitudes which he has given us today. He is an agreeable man and an honourable man, but a mask in front of the Tory Party. It was something like an act of genius by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) to make him Minister of Labour. If he had appointed the right hon. and learned Gentleman who became Lord Chancellor as the Minister of Labour after all the nonsense he had talked about trade unions we should have had trouble.
In engineering, the parties meet only when there is a prospective battle. There is still an assumption of master and man on the part of the employers, who will have to learn the manner and practice of equal partnership in the mid-20th century.—In that industry—to use the diplomatic metaphor from which the Prime Minister never seems quite to escape—there may be a prolonged armistice but never a peace treaty. There should be a general council.
If a private sector is to remain in industry, as hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies on the Government benches think that there should—and 700,000 out of the 900,000 of the members of my union are in that private sector—it must become civilised and leave behind it the mood and temper of mass unemployment. It must become a free and equal affair of equal partners, not a relationship in which there is always the possibility of strikes and forced arbitration, but a willing co-partnership. Co-partnership really starts with human relationships.
There must be battered out, in the private sector of industry, agreements giving not only good monthly rates but good weekly wages, holidays with pay, sick-pay schemes and superannuation schemes; in short, all those conditions which the "salariat" claim as of right and which the wage-earners in the nationalised and protected industries have won. They must get something more—a voice in the planning of their lives. It is upon the engineering industry that our 1605 future prosperity largely depends. These are the men and women in that industry who stand in the forefront of the export battle. They are the people who will feel the first effects of a recession in trade; on them the arrogant lash of necessity will fall if we have a recession. These are the first for the pay-off.
If there is to be a private sector in our economy, the conditions of life and labour, wages and all the rest of it, will have to be the same for these men and women as for the men and women in the nationalised industries. We cannot have two classes in our society, one consisting of the people working in the sheltered industries and the other of the workers in the full blast of foreign trade but getting lesser rewards.
Automation is upon us. I have taken a great deal of interest in that subject. I have spent my life in the engineering industry and have been responsible for engineers. The sort of change-over that took place in Morris's in 1926, and which took two months, is just chicken feed compared with what is going to happen when automation really comes here.
I read yesterday an item that hon. Members may have seen, to the effect that the Standard Motor Company have installed a new machine. The company first floated a new issue to raise ¤3½ million of new capital to finance tooling-up for increased production of motor vehicles; now they are kicking off with a machine imported from Germany. The machine cost £100,000 and is known as the "Heller Electro-Hydraulic Transfer Miller." It is able to perform automatically all six machining operations on a cylinder head, and will give a much higher output with a direct labour of only two men, a loader—unloading is automatic—and a supervisor, than twenty-two men now obtain with conventional machine tools worked singly or in pairs.
It is under the threat of automation that the American trade unions are staging lightning strikes in General Motors Corporation and Fords, to provide for twenty-six weeks' pay in the year, if there is a pay-off for this sort of thing, so that the men shall have their daily bread. I have worked on the factory floor under the threat of the sack in the old days, against the changing of men and machines. The engineering employers 1606 still stand by the doctrine of 1897 that there is to be no workers' consultation in the engineering industry.
The Minister of Labour will, therefore, have to take practical steps. If automation comes in with the speed which is prophesied in some of the Press comments I get from America, the dock strike, the rail strike and the seamen's strike will be as chicken feed compared with the trouble that will be on the shoulders of the Minister of Labour at that time. Now is the time to prepare. The duty rests upon the shoulders of the Minister of Labour to tell the engineering employers that there must not be a negative attitude but a positive one. The British Employers' Confederation met the Prime Minister yesterday.
The set-up in industry has to be a common council to which people shall come, not as suppliants on their knees, but as men on their feet. There has no longer to be the rôles of the bully and the bullied that I have known, but free and equal partners, who will use this great new atomic power, this automation, these electronic devices, to give us an era of peace and plenty such as we have never known before. Then we can go forward, as employers and employed, managers and managed, into a free and equal society that shall be free from hunger and from want, and full of dignity and self-respect.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the technical aspects of what he had to say, but I am sorry that he thought fit to drag into a discussion of this very important matter comments which smacked completely of party politics. I assure him that he is totally misjudging the situation if he describes my right hon. and learned Friend as a facade for the real feelings of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I paid a tribute to the personal qualities of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, for whom I have great respect. It is no reflection to say of him that he is but the mask of the Tory Party. I am speaking from experience.
§ Mr. Summers
Then there was no need for the hon. Member to interrupt me, because I never accused him of saying anything discreditable about my right 1607 hon. and learned Friend. I said that he is completely misjudging the present situation if he regards the kind of approach to the problem expressed by the Minister of Labour as anything other than the genuine feelings of the party on this side.
I have heard practically every speech today and, with the exception of the rather lamentable lapse of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), the approach, on the whole, has been one of constructive comment. It is also quite clear that any suggestion of legislation is at once frowned on and attacked by hon. Members opposite—and indeed, by many of my hon. Friends.
When considering this topic we are rather apt to forget the intense concern —and, in some cases, anger—which has been aroused among the public, who are less familiar with this topic of industrial relations than are some of us who sit here. We are a little apt to take for granted that because we consider some suggestions as quite impracticable that view is shared by large numbers of the public. If, therefore, I say a word or two to try to dispose of some suggestions which, to me, are quite impracticable—and I think I shall carry hon. Gentlemen opposite with me—it is largely because I believe that at this time there is grave need for widespread public education about the present situation.
There are widespread demands for short cuts—by legislation, ballots and the like—to that loyalty and responsibility which, to my mind, cannot be achieved by any compulsory methods. I urge any of my hon. Friends here, or friends outside who think that there is a short cut, to pause for reflection, because I am certain that in attempting to solve the problem in that way they will do infinitely more harm than good.
Two of my hon. Friends have suggested that provided the secret ballot were voluntary it would have their support. Whether it is voluntary or compulsory, I do not believe that it has much of a contribution to make. I want particularly to deal with those who are advocating it as a compulsory measure. The argument is that until certain processes have been complied with it is unreasonable that the strike weapon should be used because of its far-reaching adverse consequences to the public interest.
1608 It is not sufficient to tell that section of the public which would like to see the legislative weapon used merely that it is unacceptable to the trade union movement—and that is that. I want, therefore, to dwell for just two or three minutes on one very important aspect which, I think, has not yet been mentioned. If there is ballot procedure, carrying with it the sanction of law, it must quite inevitably be carried out by impartial people—civil servants or local government officials.
That apparatus can only be called into play, when the emergency arises, by somebody designated beforehand. Is it to be someone with fifty signatures? Any suggestion of an unknown person fulfilling certain conditions would be so irresponsible and impracticable as to be quite out of the question. Therefore, if such an apparatus is to be suggested, one is forced to designate the trade union official as the person authorised to call into being this impartial procedure for deciding the action of members of the union.
Once that stage is reached, we reach the impossible position whereby this procedure is only available if invoked by the trade union official, and, denying the opportunity to anyone else to invoke it, the unofficial strike becomes completely illegal. That seems to me to dispose effectively of any suggestion that this procedure is available for either type of strike if it is suitably prescribed by law.
I have even heard it suggested in this atmosphere of concern and anger that those who strike unofficially should be denied National Assistance. I hope that there is no one on these benches who would lend any support to any suggestion of that kind, because it seems to me intolerable that, however irresponsible the breadwinner of a family might be, the sanction of penalties should be imposed against his wife and children as a means of curbing his irresponsibility.
I have heard it suggested that certain sanctions should be applied to those who strike unofficially, which would not be applied if the strike had the blessing of the trade union. If such a course were followed, we should be in a position in which the trade union official would have the power to place the members of his union within or without the law.
1609 That, surely, would be an intolerable position in which to place any trade union official. Moreover, the risk to his future prestige would be such that it would serve only to encourage the official blessing of strikes, as the trade union official would know quite well the consequences which would follow the refusal of such blessing.
I listened to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin-grove (Mr. Elliot), who approached this topic of industrial relations on a rather wider plane than anybody who had preceded them. I confess that I am a little sceptical of planning in this sphere of what is essentially one of human relations. Whether you take the industrial council to which disputes are supposedly to be referred before certain actions are taken, or whether you arrange for certain specialised subjects to be referred to an industrial parliament for consideration, unless there were good will between those potentially in dispute, no amount of satisfactory machinery such as might emerge from those suggestions would be any substitute for the good will which is necessary to prevent these troubles.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour made one very important comment which, I think, no hon. Member has yet taken up, and which I should like to emphasise, namely, the importance of trying to find in our future arrangements in this field more time for reflection before the proposed strike is put into force, so that last minute attempts might be made to prevent worse disasters. I do not want to go into the detailed circumstances of the recent strikes, with which we are familiar and of which we had a clear and lucid account from the Minister, but if, as a result of the debate and subsequent consultations, it could become the common practice for more time to elapse between a decision to take violent action and its implementation, that would tend in the long run to assist those last-minute attempts to prevent the dislocation of public affairs.
Surely we are in rather a dilemma. On the one hand, it is regretted that the authority of the representatives of the trade unions is not sufficient to ensure that they can carry with them all those whom they represent.
§ Mr. Summers
I do not want to make comparisons.
The right hon. Member for Blyth said that our troubles would come to an end when the sanctity of contracts was respected by those in whose names they were made. I accept that fully.
§ Mr. Summers
In considering the need to strengthen the authority of the trade union leaders, I do not think that any element of compulsion can possibly be introduced. That strengthening of their authority can come only from the loyalty and respect held by those they represent for those conducting the negotiations. It is that desire to see this authority strengthened which leads people into false channels to find substitutes which I, personally, deplore.
I should be the last to suggest that the main topic with which the debate is concerned is one in which Communism plays a very prominent part, because the kind of unrest which has been manifest has certainly not been started by Communist influence. Nevertheless, we can remember cases in recent months and years in which, without question, Communist influence has played a prominent part possibly in starting and certainly in fomenting industrial unrest. The Ministry of Labour must have information about the subversive activities of individuals—activities which are harmful to the public interest—which they are most reluctant to make public. If this information were made public it would unquestionably undermine the influence which these people are capable of exerting. I hope that in suitable circumstances the Minister will consider that aspect of the problem.
Surely one of the most important ways of avoiding these difficulties is to seek out the trouble before it reaches the serious stage at which the atmosphere becomes explosive and violent action is threatened because of the lack of a solution. If the Minister sees a situation in which it would be possible for leapfrog demands for improved wages to arise, I should have thought it would be right for him to draw the attention of the industry to that defect in the negotiating structure of that industry. If the assisance of the Ministry of Labour and of the Trades Union Congress had been 1611 invoked much earlier in these matters think we might have avoided some troubles with which we have been faced recently.
I do not believe that we have yet learned how to operate full employment. There are a number of problems which unquestionably find their origins in postwar conditions and are different in character because of the change in those conditions. We are now debating a situation which has grown up in the nationalised industries, the docks and the like. I hope that we will not be in a hurry to try unorthodox solutions or short cuts to success. I believe that we have a great educational task to perform among people who do not understand what the trade union movement purports to do and are unwilling to give sufficient time for it to adapt itself to changing conditions.
Those who have some experience have the responsibility of demanding from the public that the trade union movement should be given time to adapt itself and to see that we do not seek short cuts, by legislation or otherwise, or we shall be going to a disastrous future. As other hon. Members have said, we are singularly fortunate in having the Minister of Labour in the position he holds and that he has engendered sincerity and good will among all those responsibly concerned with the matter. We wish him the continued success which his efforts so far have so richly deserved.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Jack Jones
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Could we have your guidance in respect of this debate? It appears now that only one back bencher, a railwayman who knows something about the railway dispute, will now speak. Could you advise us how we could get the Minister of Labour to advise the Leader of the House so that we could have another day's debate, when others interested in such industries as mine might take part?
§ Mr. Collick
May I raise a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? The anticipations in the country and in the House were that the debate today would take into its scope the railway strike. I think it was not unreasonable to anticipate that there would be speeches on this side of the House from hon. Members who have specialised knowledge of the industry. The extraordinary thing has happened, for some reason quite beyond my knowledge, that that has not taken place. I wonder if we could have some indication from the Chair whether that is deliberate or by inadvertence?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I can only sympathise with those hon. Members who have not been called, but I can only call one hon. Member at a time from either side of the House, and follow the usual practice. Mr. Monslow.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I rise to a point of order. Is it not a fact that the discussion is taking place on the Adjournment of the House, and that my hon. Friends will be able to participate in the debate because, according to Standing Orders, no one can keep them out if a vote is not taken on the Adjournment Motion?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is true that the debate is taking place on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, but on whatever Motion a debate takes place, I can only call one hon. Member at a time.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I think you will recognise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it would not be desirable for me to attempt to survey the whole history of this dispute in the short time at my disposal. Whilst I am obliged that you have called me at this late hour, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House for me to attempt to deal with it, particularly the historical background of this dispute. That would be humanly impossible in the time at my disposal. In the circumstances, I express warm appreciation and thanks to you for having called me, but I realise the difficulties and endorse what my colleagues have said. I think that another day should be set apart so that 1613 we could have another opportunity of discussing all that is involved in this situation.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Collick
On a point of order. Before my hon. Friend winds up for the Opposition, could we have a Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Since we are on the Motion for the Adjournment, is it not possible to have the debate continued, or must the House rise at 10 o'clock?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have no desire to stand between the House and anyone who wishes to speak. Indeed, I am sure that on this subject I can manage to say all I have to say in 20 or 25 minutes. I am sorry if that is no use, but the case has to be put at the end of the debate and that is what I will now try to do.
We have had a large number of maiden speeches today, all of them of great interest. There were three from this side of the House and two from the benches opposite. Three of the maiden speakers were young men, two of them aged 31 and one 33 years of age. Thirty-three is a very good age at which to enter the House of Commons. At that age a man has had experience of life outside, has something behind him so that he can stand on his own feet, and at the same time he has sufficient resilience to get adjusted to the peculiar life that we lead in this place. I congratulate all those who entered the House at the age of 33.
The maiden speakers included two hon. Friends of mine from Durham—my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones)— both of whom have particular experience of trade union matters and both of whom I had the honour of knowing before they came to this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West, who has been Chairman of Durham County Council and is an acknowledged authority as an educational administrator, will bring to us here a very great knowledge, not only on mining and industrial matters, but also on educational matters. We look forward to hearing from him, coming, as 1614 he does, from a county which has provided so many Labour stalwarts in the past, and which, I venture to prophesy, will provide a great many more in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) touched on matters that were obviously within his practical knowledge, and more speeches like that from him will certainly add to the knowledge of the House.
The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) flies rather strange colours to be in that particular aviary. There are sports in every camp. On this side of the House, for example, there are four old Etonians. We have managed to absorb them and they lead a happy and contented life. I hope that the hon. Member for Totnes will, among his colleagues, be as our four old Etonians are among us.
I met the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) and his hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) when I went to Cambridge. I hasten to add that I went only for one night and to a debate. Even then, the hon. Member for Eastleigh had fallen into evil ways, and I am sorry that the defeat that he suffered in that debate did not make him repent and that he has now carried his sins even further by appearing on the benches opposite. But we listened to all those hon. Members with very great interest.
I should like to raise some particular points about the debate. First, I should like to re-emphasise what the Minister of Labour himself said in opening. The number of men on strike at any one time, or, indeed, in total, involved in these disputes is very small. The dock workers who get publicity and the Press for being on strike are only a small proportion of the total. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day described them as 40 per cent. but he was referring—I wanted to interrupt him so that he should make it clear—to the ports that were in dispute. In fact, the total Dock Register today comprises some 75,000 men. Fewer than 19,000, I believe, are today out on strike. That is a different picture from the one that is frequently understood to be that seen by ordinary members of the public who have not followed this matter in detail.
Let us look back for a moment to the railway strike. There were 67,000 men or thereabouts on official strike. But 1615 there were several hundreds of thousands of railwaymen who stayed at work. There is a lesson that I want to draw from that. We hear a great deal about indiscipline in the unions and the failure of trade unions to control their members. I am sorry that no one has thought fit today to say to the Transport and General Workers' Union that their representation and the quality of their leadership must have been singularly high in a dispute in which the traditional loyalty of the dockers was involved, when three-quarters of them stayed at work. That is a factor which ought to be put into the balance as counterweight against a great deal of propaganda which may not be malevolent but which is certainly misinformed.
I turn to my next point. I am certain that the worker in this country today, who is working longer hours and more overtime than he has worked at any time since the end of the war, and, indeed, during the war, is more ready to down tools because of these long hours than he would if he were working an ordinary working week. Anyone who has had experience of working long hours and overtime knows that they are hours and times of particular strain. [An HON. MEMBER: "An all-night sitting."] As the hon. Member reminds me, an all-night sitting is a particular case in point. Indeed, I wonder how many of us turn up at 2.30 the next afternoon when we have had an all-night sitting. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or at 10.30 a.m."]
I am certain that we in this country and in industry today should be aiming at shortening working hours and not making overtime and long hours a normal part of our daily lives. We are getting ourselves into the position in which workers are working overtime to pay the instalments on television sets which they have not time to look at. That is not the end of life. I hope that the trade unions will concentrate on raising the basic rates of pay more nearly to the point at which they should be today and the working of less overtime, even if it means that we get lower immediate production. This I believe would mean that in the long run we should get higher productivity because it would force managements to mechanise further. I believe also that 1616 we should get greater industrial contentment.
My next point is the attitude of a number of employers in the matter of negotiation. I have talked to a large number of trade union officials who are negotiating today. I understand—although I am not in this field—that there are still a number of employers who are using the existence of arbitration machinery as an excuse for not negotiating in a proper manner. They are throwing the trade unions back on to arbitration in order that the employers themselves may not have the responsibility of deciding what the rates of pay should be in the long run.
That is an abuse of the arbitration machinery. It certainly adds to the frustration of those who are engaged in negotiation, and adds to the possibility of friction because of the length of time it takes to get wage claims settled. I hope that the Minister of Labour will give some attention to that point if these allegations are well founded, as I have some evidence that they are in the case of certain industries.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to tell us more about the docks' inquiry, which the Minister of Labour said that he proposed to set up. I am sure that he has seen a letter which Mr. Tiffin, the General Secretary of the T.G.W.U., wrote to "The Times" on 21st June. Mr. Tiffin says that he does not disagree that there is a case for a docks' inquiry. What he does say—and it is extremely important—is that the Dock Labour Scheme was the keystone of decasualisation. That was the most dramatic thing that had ever happened in the dock industry.
Mr. Tiffin says:… I must place on record unequivocally that if the chamber"—that is the London Chamber of Com-merce—has in mind a return to the traditional 'pool of unemployed' this union will never accept such a retrograde step.I am sure that represents the view of the whole labour movement, and I hope that it represents the view of the employers in the industry, although there has been comment from some of the master stevedores which might lead one to think that they were ready to have 1617 again the pool of unemployed. That was the immediate cause of Mr. Tiffin's letter to "The Times."
I am sure that the Minister of Labour, whose sympathetic attitude we all know well, would not want this inquiry to start in the wrong atmosphere. If it were thought that this inquiry were being started as an amendment of the Dock Labour Scheme, so as to create a pool of unemployment, there would be no co-operation from the unions and there would be active hostility from the men.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make it clear that that is excluded, that any suggestion of the casualisation of labour, to reintroduce casual labour in the docks, will not be included in the terms of reference of the committee of inquiry that is to be set up. If that is done I believe that this inquiry can get off to a good start. I shall not detail some of the matters into which it could go because, no doubt, we can debate those at another time.
I would come now to the question of the railways. We have not, alas, heard as much as we might have done on that subject today.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sorry that my hon. Friend, whose voice I hear behind me, was not called.
I would make three comments on that question. If there is any lesson—and, perhaps, an outside observer can say this more easily than some of the members of the unions—which the unions could learn from that strike it is the cardinal need for unity in presenting their wage claims. The trouble started for the railway unions when they fell out of step a few years ago in presenting their wage claims.
§ Mr. Collick
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but why should he go out of his way to discuss a matter like that when he knows that those of us who have opinions to express on it have had no opportunity of so doing?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not had an opportunity of expressing his point of view, but that cannot stop me from expressing mine. This happens to be a point of view which I hold very strongly, and I believe he 1618 does, too. [Interruption.] If he does not, then I suggest he ought to think about the matter again.
There is real need for unity between the three unions in the preparation and presentation of their claims. I am certain that it is only through such unity that there will be a lasting settlement of those differentials on the railways.
Now I must come to another aspect of the matter, and whereas I have been sniped at from the rear, now I shall probably be attacked from the front. I must call the attention of the Government to the fact that the British Transport Commission, because of the Government's legislation, has been operating under a very great handicap. The accounts of the Commission are shortly to be published—next week, I believe. They will show that the Commission's road haulage made a substantial profit—about £8 million, I am told. It is being thrown away; it is being dissipated unnecessarily; the organisation is being broken up.
Even now it is not too late for the Government to halt that process. Less than one half of that undertaking has been sold, I believe. The Government have got what they wanted out of their policy. They have got the small men back into the industry again; they have raised the limit of operation—the mileage limit that was a great bone of contention between the two sides. Why cannot the Government halt this process now? I believe that if they did so they would reverse a step with which most of the country disagrees, the selling of British Road Services, and they would thus contribute to creating some measure of harmony and peace within the transport industry. Even now I beg the Government to reconsider their attitude towards this matter. There is no face for them to lose, and I assure them that they will gain in stature if they do this.
I come again to the Government's particular responsibility. After having listened to all the speeches but one in this debate, I do not think that the Government's responsibility for the economic climate has yet been fully appreciated, at any rate by some hon. Members opposite. If we are living in a period, as we are, of brimful employment—I prefer that expression to "over-full employment" —and we are living in a society in which there is full use of our 1619 resources, the very fact that our resources are being used to the full and that labour is in great demand must of itself result in inflationary pressures. That is why, when someone was speaking this afternoon, I said that a case can be made out for the fact that in a society which believes in full employment some slow inflation is almost bound to emerge.
We should not avoid that consequence. It is one of the problems that arise in a society of full employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said the other day that we are all novices in the subject of full employment. I believe that that is true. I do not think that we should shirk the consequences when the full use of resources and manpower create a persistent pressure which results in inflation.
That creates an economic problem for the Government. If one gets, as one is bound to get, a Stock Exchange boom—and I am not commenting adversely on such a boom for the purposes of this argument—one is bound to get pressure for higher wages. The Stock Exchange boom follows automatically from the fact that people are endeavouring to cover themselves against the depreciating value of their money. Therefore, how is one to stop increasing pressure for higher wages?
That is one of the real problems to which no one on the benches opposite has found a solution. Later, I am going to be bold enough to suggest one. We shall have pressure not only for higher wages but for higher pensions and benefits; and it is that part of society—the people who can least look after themselves—who tend to be left behind in times of full employment. There is a special responsibility upon us to ensure that those who have fixed incomes and benefits are not left behind in a society in which inflationary pressure is moving in upon us.
We on this side of the House believe that a time of full-employment economy demands a special restraint on all hands. The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) said today that it demanded a special responsibility from labour and also from management, and in direction in the wider sense. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but he did not finish. It demands a special responsibility from 1620 the Treasury Bench, and this is the charge which we make against the Government. This is the fundamental question which we think they have to answer. When labour is in demand, when materials are in demand, when manufactured products are in demand, what restraint is to be practised?
I hope that I am making a fair case. The Government do not believe in restraint. They believe in freedom. They believe that what we all ought to be doing is pressing forward for our rewards, each of us creating the maximum splash and initiative and enterprise, all of us struggling together, and that out of the ensuing friction we shall have the best for the community as a whole. Perhaps that is not quite the way in which the Treasury Bench would have put it, but I think that the basic argument is right.
Manufacturers are to struggle for the glittering prizes, entrepreneurs are to try to secure all the rewards they can, the Stock Exchange is not encouraged, indeed sometimes it is painfully damned in a voice hardly above a whisper, but is allowed to take the cream off an inflationery boom. So everybody in society is told "Go forth, do what you can; let us have full freedom for all in the struggle for the prizes, except the workers," because, as the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove said, special restraint is necessary for the workers in this field.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Do the Government seriously expect trade unionists to stand aside in this sort of competitive struggle, because, if they do. I should like to ask them on what moral basis? What is the moral compulsion on trade union leaders to go out and preach wage restraint to their members in an immoral society? The Prime Minister thinks that we are preaching class warfare. When we point out these things, he believes it is a sign of class hatred, and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) said that what we were doing was preaching party politics, which is a dreadful thing to do.
The Prime Minister is almost a chameleon in this field. He is the real non-political politician. He thinks it is a good idea; I am sure he does. He would like to identify himself with the nation and be above party. Identifying himself with the nation and being above 1621 party for this purpose means leaving things as they are. It means a free and competitive society, freedom for everybody to struggle for the glittering prizes—except the trade unions.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Callaghan
All right, if it does not, is this proposition acceptable—that trade unionists in industry are entitled to scramble for higher wages? I ask that because, in fairness, the Government cannot have it both ways.
The Government cannot say that the manufacturer is entitled to go for the glittering prizes, and that, as the trade unionist has a so much higher sense of moral responsibility to the nation, he should not put in a wage claim. He can negotiate, but, supposing he does not get anything out of the negotiations, is he to strike? He is not to strike, and we all know that. We all know that that is frowned upon by everybody, and indeed we frown upon it too, but for reasons different from those of the right hon. Gentleman. This friction is inseparable from an acquisitive society, and it is one reason, and indeed the basic reason, why we differ from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in their attitude towards the future organisation of society.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) made a remarkable speech in which he drew aside the veil for a brief moment and tried to show us what would be likely to happen in the engineering field in the next few years, with automatic factories and atomic energy really coming over the horizon and forming part of our daily lives. It has already started in the United States of America and the U.S.S.R.
I read yesterday in "The Times" an article, which I am sure many people saw, on what was happening in the factory of the Standard Motor Company at Coventry, where there has been installed an electro-hydraulic transfer motor, which, directly and indirectly, employs six men. According to the article, these six men will be doing the same amount of work as 22 men were doing last week. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West asked, what is to be the attitude in the engineering industry, in which the employers simply do not believe in consultation with the workers about this kind of issue, until trouble 1622 arises? He has a long experience of that industry.
There is another machine coming in that is to finish off the cylinder blocks for cars. It is to do the machining of the cylinder blocks with six men who will be able to machine twenty-one of these blocks in an hour. At the moment thirty-six men can only do sixteen in an hour. What problems we are facing, many of which are just on the horizon and are likely to emerge during the next few years.
This is where the Government can give some leadership and guidance to industry in their conversations with the employers which are about to take place. They will find the trade unionists very ready to enter into discussions on these matters because trade unionists recognise that the standard of life is bound up with continued higher productivity and higher production. But they must be taken into partnership on these issues. They must know what these things involve, and questions of dislocation are inevitably bound up with the introduction of a revolution of this sort. This is a new industrial revolution and these things must be thrashed out by agreement. It will not be done in the atmosphere described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West.
If that is not done, I would say to the Government—and I am sure the Minister of Labour understands this—that the prospect of social upheaval and industrial unrest will be much greater in the future than it has been since the end of the war. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands in what circumstances that will happen. Here is a task for Government leadership. The first Industrial Revolution came upon us haphazardly, unplanned. We dare not lag behind the second industrial revolution. But dare we allow it to come into this country, unplanned, unthought about, and scarcely with the knowledge that it is coming upon us?
It seems to me that the Government have three types of society from which to choose. One is the present type, full of friction, with everybody competing, and conceding the right of the workers to negotiate for higher wages to get what they can out of the industrial pool, with the constant, growing, slow inflation that will be the result. Another sort of society 1623 can be the society in which men and resources are not fully used. We have had experience of that, too, with deflation and unemployment and disciplining the workers. It can be done.
I do not accuse hon. Members opposite of insincerity. I do not deny that they want full employment. I believe they have learned the lessons of history. I do not accuse them of insincerity. I accuse them of blindness. I do not believe it is possible to follow the sort of society in which we find ourselves in 1955. That is why we on this side of the House turn to what we regard as the third sort of society. We want to alter the basis of society. I do.
What I want to see is a much more equalitarian society. I want to see a classless society. I should be glad indeed to have an opportunity during the next four years that lie ahead to define what we mean by that. I say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that there are in this nation as yet untouched veins of idealism, veins of thought and feeling which will always place the public interest ahead of private profit.
I do not believe that the society of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is in the future going to get the best out of our men and women, with the transformation that is in front of us in the atomic and automation age. I do not think that that can be done by friction or by a society of a competitive nature, however good the intention of hon. Members opposite may be.
We shall continue to oppose unofficial strikes and do our best to secure peace in industry. The situation of the nation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said is too serious for us to do anything else. Therefore, we must throw our weight on that side. Nevertheless I say to Government supporters, "We shall attack the fundamentals of your society. We do not believe, as the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) said, that trade unionism is on trial. It is your society that is on trial." The question is whether Government supporters, out of the competitive strains and frictions that they have themselves set up by their economic policies, and which they believe in and foster, can produce the industrial peace that is necessary to usher in the industrial 1624 revolution that lies ahead of us. I do not believe that they can. That is why I am a Socialist.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to reply to this debate. No subject, as we all know, touches more nearly the lives of all of us than that which we have been talking about today. Like the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I have listened to every speech in the debate. The very high level of the debate shows that the House clearly realises that we have been talking about the very stuff of life for us all, for our happiness and prosperity in the future.
The debate has been notable and has certainly been enhanced—and I join with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East in this tribute—by no fewer than five maiden speeches. It is regrettable that they have made difficulties for some hon. Members opposite who very badly wanted to make a case, but none the less the five maiden speeches have been a notable enhancement to the debate. The hon. Members for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley), All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) and Consett (Mr. Stones) have done something to which this House has always responded well. They have brought an expert knowledge of the outside world, such as we always welcome in our debates. I know that we shall be happy to look forward to further contributions from them, and that we shall listen with very great interest to what they have to say in the future.
The best way in which I can deal with this very wide-ranging debate is, first, to try to answer some of the main problems that have been thrown up. Let me first deal with one or two specific problems raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, just to get them out of the way. The hon. Member started by saying that we should not over-emphasise the strike difficulty. I am sure he is right, but, of course, it is a little difficult to see how that argument works out. The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was in the same difficulty. It is true that the current wave of strikes has been rather exaggerated and over-emphasised in the Press 1625 and abroad, and it is largely in praise of the Transport and General Workers' Union in the docks, and of the members of the National Union of Railwaymen who worked so hard to keep our railways going, that I am glad to pay the Government's tribute. It is difficult for hon. Gentlemen opposite to take that line, and, at the same time, the line that our present society is leading to a great new wave of industrial unrest. The two arguments do not run together. I will come back to this point later, because it is the nub of the debate.
I should like now to deal with two other topics which the hon. Gentleman raised, the first of which deals with overtime. There is more overtime being worked and the statistics of my Ministry show it. But is that not a reason why we should welcome automation instead of fearing it, as so many people seem to do, and see in it a chance to spread scarce labour better and more profitably in industry? There is hope there and no need to be fearful, as was the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell).
On this issue of overtime, we long ago had before the National Joint Advisory Council a project for better shift working. It may have been discussed in the time of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). If one is short of labour, one has to work one's machine better round the clock, if one can. Again, this is a difficult problem and perhaps we have not made much progress with it. The problem of overtime can be solved. The tools to solve it are almost to our hands, but only if we seize them and do not unduly fear them.
The other point concerned the inquiry into the Dock Labour Scheme which my hon. and learned Friend said will shortly proceed as soon as we can get rid of this difficult and damaging strike in the docks. The late Mr. Arthur Deakin, when he headed the union—and perhaps it would be appropriate for me, since I think that this is the first time that his name has been mentioned today, to say how much he will be missed in the trade union movement, and, if I may say so, in the Ministry of Labour—had talks with my right hon. and learned Friend.
The terms of reference of the committee and its composition have not yet been decided or announced and I do not want, 1626 in advance, to commit this expert committee. However, there is one thing I will say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East categorically. If he thinks that my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government will set up an inquiry that will lead to a pool of unemployment in the docks as in the bad old days, the answer to that is, categorically, no. I hope that I have made that definite enough.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Is it not a fact that for months employers and some hon. Members on his side have been pressing for an inquiry into the Dock Labour Scheme not with a view to improving it, but with a view to destroying it?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do not pay any attention to that. There was proper consultation with the unions and employers about setting up the scheme. After about ten years of the Dock Labour Scheme, we want to see whether we can improve it and make it work better. What has happened in the docks in the last few months might lead us to believe that some improvements can be made in the interests of everybody. That is the purpose of the inquiry and if there is any question that it is to create a pool of unemployment the answer is, definitely, no.
§ Mr. Gibson
May me take it that nothing will be done which will in any way get rid of the principle of decasualisation of dock labour, a principle which is fundamental to the present scheme?
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is what I have been saying; but we have not yet set up the committee, nor fixed its terms of inquiry. The committee must be given scope to look into the scheme, or there is no point in setting it up. I have given a clear answer to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, and that is the answer to which we propose to stick.
I want to come to the next point generally made in the debate, and which has run through the speeches of most Members. It was that we ought to have some sort of inquiry into industrial relations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), in a speech to which I listened with very great interest, said that we should have a sort of industrial parliament to study these things. We have one. Perhaps we do 1627 not use it as much as we should. It is the National Joint Advisory Council, which meets under my right hon. and learned Friend. It is possible that we might use that body more.
The first thing to be done is to pursue the consultations which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has started. The second thing is to see what sort of ideas crystalise from those inquiries, and I think that today's debate has played a notable part towards that end. The next thing is to turn to the National Joint Advisory Council. After all, in that body we have the T.U.C., the nationalised industries and the employers—the three parties whose good will we must have if we are to make progress in this matter. Surely, that is the proper forum in which this matter should be discussed.
I am not for a moment saying that an inquiry will not remain in our minds, or that it would not be useful. All I say is that if this industrial parliament of ours came to the Government with a suggestion of what it would like and what it thought would improve relations that would be an even quicker way. We shall have to see how we go on. Our minds are certainly not closed to an inquiry if it would help, but, first, there should be full and proper consultation with all the parties concerned.
One thing has been mentioned in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth and other hon. Members. It was—and I am trying to put it as factually as possible—that there was a risk that we have started a kind of new doctrine in industrial relations. Here, perhaps I may say that if there is any blame, or any argument as to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a broadcast, it certainly rests on the Ministry of Labour as much as on anyone, because it was the true doctrine that he was there enunciating, and the true doctrine of the Ministry of Labour. I must, therefore, make it plain, if I can, that the criticism should be directed to this Ministry. However, I am not saying other than that it was the true doctrine.
§ Mr. Robens
So when the Prime Minister made his broadcast he was really reading the Ministry of Labour brief?
§ Mr. Watkinson
No. It is a very fair comment, but what I said was that it was an enunciation of the true doctrine of the Ministry of Labour—which is, perhaps, a slightly different thing.
I think it is important for future industrial relations that there should be no misunderstanding, not about that broadcast but about what we are doing in the Ministry of Labour. I would like to refer briefly to what we are trying to do and what we will do in the future. I think the idea has arisen—and I probably carry the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. Gentlemen with me in this—that in some ways the Ministry of Labour is a very mysterious Department. Its mysterious ways are perhaps sometimes very helpful in industrial disputes, but are not always understood by the outside world.
Let me restate the position as clearly as I can. My right hon. and learned Friend is obviously charged with trying to get industrial peace, and the most important section of our Ministry today is that dealing with industrial relations. We have eleven regional industrial relations officers spread throughout the country. They do fine work and every year stop literally thousands of disputes from hitting the headlines at all. Those disputes are settled in the factories or districts. That is a fine record for which, I fear, credit seldom goes to those responsible.
When there is a national dispute the headquarters conciliation staff come in under the Chief Industrial Commissioner—and indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend and I sometimes get caught up in a major dispute, as we were in the recent railway trouble. What we try to do is to find a basis on which the strike or the threat of a strike can be averted so that normal negotiations can proceed without either. Our job is to try to find a basis on which we can get the strike out of the way. It is often a long and difficult process which needs much patience and much talk, but this conciliation task of the Ministry is perhaps its most important task today and for the years to come. It should be rightly limited just to trying to get the strike out of the way.
The other point that I want to make plain is that it is not an operation in which an employer is sent for, so to speak, to show the colour of his money or, indeed, forced to do anything at all. 1629 Equally, it is not an operation in which a trade union should be or could he forced to take any action which it thought was not in the interests of its members and in the national interest. That is the important point. Our task is persuasion. It is not coercion. It is not coercion of employers or of trade unions. It is persuasion and the technique of skilled conciliation which owes so much to those who built it up, including men like Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, Sir Henry Betterton, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, the three right hon. Members who sit opposite and, if I may say so, the tireless patience and skill of my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope there is no misunderstanding about what we are trying to do and what the unfortunate "Ministry of Hard Labour" has tried to do for a great many years as successfully as it could.
I want to say a word about the position of an employer or a trade union during a strike. Again, I want to make it plain to the trade union that it is for them to decide whether they will negotiate or not and whether they will come to us or not. It is their decision, not ours. As the whole House knows, as far as unofficial strikes are concerned, there is little that we can do because that is clearly a matter between the trade union and its members. Therefore, it would he very improper for the officers of my Ministry to become involved in a matter which lies between the trade union and its own members. I hope that has made that particular problem a little more plain and has perhaps lifted the veil slightly over St. James's Square and over the great patience and work of the officials there.
The next point that was raised, I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) among others, was the question whether we should not try to regard strikes and industrial unrest against a sort of national background. I do not want to say too much about that. I think that all of us who believe in productivity, and so on, have perhaps said too much about it in the last few years, on both sides of the House, among the trade unions and among employers. If one goes on talking too much about keeping the wheels of industry turning, increasing productivity and such things, 1630 one is sometimes accused of being a bit platitudinous and a bit prim as well.
But is it really a bad thing—I think we have come near to it in this House today—that we should agree on some basic facts which we all think are right and should form a background to negotiations in industrial difficulties? I believe it will do far more in the future than any kind of legislation if this House and this country can agree on certain basic facts—and they have run through various speeches today. I thought the right hon. Member for Blyth stated it better than anyone when he spoke about the razor edge on which we stood if we should fail our task in the export markets. I felt that that was something which should be expressed in this debate.
I believe that this House today has come nearer to a common approach at least on those problems than before, and I cannot see that it will do anything but good in the future. I do not wish to weary the House, but I should like to read one quotation from an article by a very notable writer, Mr. Sam Watson, in the "Sunday Times," in which he said:The challenge now is not to find jobs, but the men and women to fill them, and to search out the common denominator whereby we recognise that so interdependent have we become upon each other's services and production in modern industrial society, that consistent with our responsibility to our members we should accept as a duty the needs and rights of the community.I do not want to quote that only at the trade unions. It applies equally to employers as well. If we take that common approach, we shall find that it is a more hopeful line than ideas about legislation and such methods.
I do not for a moment rule out the various ideas that have been canvassed, and I do not think that I should say much more about them at this stage than my right hon. and learned Friend did. We heard them again today, perhaps more from our side of the House in this instance. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) talked a good deal about the secret ballot and other Members have put other ideas forward.
I think the right thing at the moment is to leave that for the judgment of the trade union movement, the British Employers' Confederation and the nationalised industries. Let us see what are 1631 their views on these matters. Let us see whether they can find any useful tool in the suggestions which have been put forward in the House and in the Press.
The point which I want to make plain, and which the Prime Minister has already made plain, is that at the moment we certainly have no legislation ready or in the bag or anything like that. We want to see what industry wants. How does it think it can best solve its problems? That question might pofitably go to the National Joint Advisory Council and from there perhaps an inquiry might be a good thing to see whether we cannot make progress.
Having got rid of some of those points I want to come to what I think was the crux of the speeches by the right hon. Member for Blyth and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. It was the rather old complaint—certainly not the first time that we have heard it in the House or in the country—that in some mysterious and not very clearly specified way the economic policy of the Government is responsible for industrial unrest. I do not mean that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen did not put the point fairly. They did.
First, it is, of course, very difficult to say that at the same time as they say that, on the whole, industrial unrest is not serious and, on the whole, relations are quite good. I am trying to be as fair as I can, but it seems to me difficult to say that in the same voice. Nevertheless, this is a point which must be faced. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that there are two ways of life. In fact, he said there were three, but I think we all reject the middle way of the pool of unemployed and of not working machines to their capacity, because that is disaster for us all, on whichever side of the House we sit. He was right to say that there are perhaps two opposing ways of life, although I am not sure that, in the end, these things do not come together, like many other things.
The hon. Gentleman said that our free-for-all economy is a bad thing and must lead to industrial friction and trouble. I think "friction" was the word he used. Of course, the first answer, the short answer and, I think, the fair answer to it is that money and wages have not played 1632 any part at all in the three major industrial disputes.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I will not mention any names, but I have vivid memories of A.S.L.E.F. telling my right hon. and learned Friend and myself time and again that what it was fighting for was a principle.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am glad to say that this question of leap-frogging is out of the way. I am glad to tell hon. Members that the British Transport Commission has announced tonight that it has made great progress in getting agreement with the National Union of Railwaymen, which, of course, was necessary following the referee's award to the footplate men. We are making progress, as the previous agreement stipulated, in order to get the whole issue out of the way. I did not want to say very much about the railways, but—
§ Mr. Watkinson
The issue on the railways was one of principle—the principle of a differential. The issue in the docks at the moment, as nobody denies, is a conflict for recognition. The issue in the docks last October was whether overtime was voluntary or compulsory. I shall deal with this more fully in a moment. The short answer is that wages do not appear to have been the most powerful motivation in the three recent disputes. I think that there are circumstances which have a bearing on the industrial climate and that this House is the proper place in which to discuss them.
On the subject of the railways, I read a sentence in the leading article of the T.U.C. magazine about the new railway productivity council which, I hope, will bring the three railway unions together in an effort to improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of their industry. The sentence was:Britain's dependence on its railways has been underlined in recent weeks and everybody will wish the British Railways Productivity Council an early and smooth start on its journey to success.The future of the railways lies much more in that sentence than in some of the sterile 1633 arguments and difficulties we have had to face in the past years. We want to see the three unions and management working together for a more efficient and profitable system, paying higher wages, giving better conditions out of the skill and efficiency of the members.
May I go back to the broader issues of these changed economic circumstances. It is not a question of profits on the Stock Exchange. One can argue a long time about that sort of statistics. One could say with perfect truth that real wages are worth more today than at any time since the war. The index of wages measured against the index of prices now shows a clear lead of between four and five points, which has not happened before since the war. I do not want to go so much into statistics, but, strangely enough—this is not against what hon. Members opposite have said—is not the trouble that prosperity and brimful employment—a very good term—have made people feel that one may kick over the traces with no cost to oneself or to the country? Is not that a dangerous thing for people to believe? I do not want to be critical or particularly controversial on this subject.
§ Mr. Watkinson
It is all right for the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East to be controversial. He is a great enlivener of the political scene and he does well inside and outside the House, but he does not bear responsibility for industrial affairs.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is quite true. The hon. Gentleman must exercise care in what he says, but I assure him that he will not carry out his full responsibility by avoiding controversy. If he has controversial things to say, let us have them thrashed out.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Well, let us have some now.
This prosperity and full employment, this feeling that one can have a strike without hurting oneself or the country, is a most dangerous and damaging thing. And—this is the bit of controversy—if hon. Members opposite, I think inadvertently, try to make out that these are not the real causes of the trouble, but that it is Conservative freedom, and so on, they are running the risk of doing the exact damage which I know they 1634 do not want to do, that is, misleading people in industry about the real difficulties.
I could quote trade union leader after trade union leader on this question. I could quote from a document produced by a committee over which I have the honour to preside, a committee of some very able trade unionists and employers. This, I believe, is the answer to the problem, not the answer given by the Opposition. I will not mention names, but they are very able leaders on both sides of industry and they put their names to this report of the N.J.A.C. They said:Responsibility for achieving good relations clearly rests, in the first place, on employers …".That is very rightly said.The efforts of employers may be easily frustrated unless the workpeople are ready on their side to understand that any increase in their own real income is dependent on an increase in the prosperity of the country as a whole, and that an increase in the efficiency and prosperity of their own firms or establishments is an essential contribution to that general properity. Employers equally, on their side, must accept the same obligation and must recognise that the efficiency and prosperity of their industries are not merely their own concern but are a matter of vital national interest.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I should like to take that up. I made some notes while the hon. Member was speaking. He spoke about Standard's. Before I was mug enough to do this job, I used to be in the Standard Motor Company quite a lot. They have some of the best industrial relations in the Midlands. If any firm works together as a team, that company does. There was the imputation—
§ Mr. C. Pannell rose—
§ Mr. Pannell
It was my point in the debate. It is very odd that hon. Members opposite, who do not normally grace this assembly and who did not know that I 1635 made the original speech, object to my intervening. We did not make the point about Standard Motors. Our indictment is against the whole of the Engineering Employers' Federation, who refused to set up a joint council. It is not the individual firms but the Federation who are to blame.
§ Mr. Watkinson
It was not the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who mentioned Standards'. It was his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Watkinson
So far as the hon. Member's remarks about the engineering industry were concerned—and I heard most of them—the hon. Member for Leeds, West knows just as well as I do that there is a proper channel of procedure in the engineering industry which goes from the floor of the shop right to the top, both on the Confederation side and on the employers' side. The hon. Member knows it just as well as I do.
Having come to some doctrine on which, I think, we can all agree, and which I hope hon. Members will preach in and out of this House—because if they do, they will make a bigger contribution to industrial peace than almost anything we can do—I do not want to go further into controversy. All I want to do now is to come back to the general theme.
We are clear on our side and in the Government what we want to do in the 1636 future. We want to work in friendly association with the employers, with trade unions and trade union leaders, and with the nationalised industries. We want to see that association in the national interest, because we do not think that we can meet the problems that we face—of competition, of Germany and Japan, and of all the other things—unless we face them as a united nation. The success that we have had with this policy in the last few years encourages us to believe that it is a proper blueprint for success and prosperity in the future.
It is the future I want to look at and not the past, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West does. It is the future we have to live in. It is a future in which we have been given new tools, automation, atomics and electronics. Are we going to use them? Are we going to make this country more prosperous than it has ever been? We can do this if we want to, but we can only do it by working together as a united team and as a united nation. We can only do it by remembering that we live for the future and that some of the old bitter battles of the past had better be forgotten. If we can do that, I am quite sure that the years ahead will be more prosperous than they have ever been and that we shall leave for those who come after us a better and more prosperous nation that may yet again lead the world in industrial development and prosperity.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.