§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The objects of the Bill are, first, to lay down minimum periods of notice to terminate employment, and, secondly, to require employers to give their employees written statements about the main terms of their contracts of employment.
The Bill is a part of the Government's plans to provide greater security for workers. This is a time when industry must be quick to adopt improved methods and exploit new techniques if we are to expand our production and maintain our competitive position. We must accept that as part of this process there must be changes in the pattern of employment as some firms and industries decline and others expand. We must be prepared for the social implications of all this. All of us in the House are at the moment immediately concerned with unemployment and the need for a higher level of economic activity and employment throughout the country. particularly in the most seriously affected areas. But at all times there will be changes in employment which are bound to affect the personal lives of thousands of our fellow citizens.
In a large and expanding firm workers no longer needed in one job can often be transferred to another. Managements most certainly have a duty to do this whenever it is possible. But when a man has to find a new job, this means only too often a serious dislocation of his personal life. It may mean moving home. But, worst of all, a man's skill, his main asset, may turn out to be unwanted. This is when people need all the help and consideration that they can be given. We should not and cannot buy progress at the expense of the individual.
As I said in the debate on unemployment the other day, the fear of change and what it can mean is a powerful incentive to resist change and slow it 1504 down by all possible means. But if we reduce that fear and give proper consideration and effective help, we can help, I think, to create an atmosphere in which the need for change is accepted and there is co-operation in creating an efficient and flexible economy. The problem of security—of helping the worker to face change with confidence—is basic to our industrial efficiency.
The Contracts of Employment Bill is one step in the Government's policy to meet this problem of security, and should like to set it in that context.
We have already published proposals for improving arrangements for apprenticeship and other industrial training. These proposals aim not only at revolutionising the training of the young, but at providing far more extensive retraining facilities for the adult either under the arrangements of an industrial training board or by the Government themselves, so that the young and the adult can be given the skill and adaptability which the changing demands of industry call for.
We also intend to improve arrangements for dealing with redundancy. A study prepared for my National Joint Advisory Council has shown that in the last three years there has been an increase of over 50 per cent, in the number of company redundancy policies and in the number of employees in companies with such policies, but still only about 16 per cent. of workers in manufacturing industries are covered by such schemes.
We are now all—by that I mean the Government, employers and trade unions—studying what practical steps can best be taken to extend and improve existing arrangements. I do not want to prejudge what will emerge from these discussions, but meanwhile we shall aim to achieve improved arrangements for redundancy by voluntary action, with stimulation and help from the Government. On two matters, however—length of notice and contracts—we now give a lead in the Bill before the House.
The provisions of the Bill have been criticised by both employers and trade unions. Some people think it goes too far, and others think that it does not go far enough. The British Employers' Confederation has told me that it is its policy to encourage employers to give as 1505 long warning as possible of redundancy. It is not in principle opposed to longer notice, but it considers that this is a matter better settled by negotiation than by law. I understand its view. It is consistent with our traditional approach.
Voluntary methods are fine, but they are fine only if they are effective. Some progress has been made, as I have indicated, on a voluntary basis in recent years, but not nearly enough. I think that The Times made this very clear in its leading article today when it said that a legalistic approach to this carries no one very far, but it has its uses especially when the spontaneous approaches of unions and employers are crowned with only patchy success. For example, a week's notice—I am talking about the slowness with which all this has been happening—became established in industry during or just after the war. But it is still the general rule, and the war ended in 1945. I think that the answer is that we must now make a far more general advance.
Again, I do not think that we should forget that progress by voluntary negotiation benefits, of course, the organised worker—the trade union member. But there are many millions of employees who are outside the trade unions, not only in industry but in commerce—workers in shops and offices. I submit that the rights of these people are just as important.
The only way to secure the advance that is needed for everyone is to lay down minimum standards, as we are doing in the Bill. But I repeat that these are minimum standards. The object of the Bill is not only to bring everybody up to the minimum but also to encourage employers to improve on the minimum on a voluntary basis.
Where this is done, the Bill already makes some allowance for flexibility. Suggestions have been made to me that I should increase the flexibility by enlarging the right of the two parties to contract out of the Bill if they mutually agree to do this. I am prepared to examine the full implications of this and to hear what hon. Members have to say on this during the debate before deciding what I should do. That deals with the employers' criticisms.
The Trades Union Congress has criticised the Bill, also. Its main point is that it will require the worker as well 1506 as the employer to give longer notice. On this, I would say that I think that it is right that if an obligation is imposed on one party to a contract there should be an obligation on the other party. Equal periods of notice at present exist in industry, although they are generally, of course, shorter on both sides than the minimum laid down in the Bill. Equal notice is also quite common in other employments, but there are, I know, many employers who give longer notice to their workers than they ask from their workers. It suits their circumstances, and they think that this is a better arrangement. As I have just said, I shall consider whether I can make the Bill more flexible so as not to cut across policies of this kind.
Some trade union leaders have also said that the Bill will not be of real benefit to most workers. This is really quite untrue. At present, the great majority of the 15 million manual workers have a right to only a week's notice, no matter how long their service may have been. In some industries they have a right to even less, and can be dismissed virtually with no notice at all. In shops and offices weekly paid staff usually have one week's notice only.
The unions have also said that in two industries—construction and shipbuilding—very few workers will benefit because they do not continue in employment with one employer for long enough to qualify for the rights given by the Bill. In both these industries workers can be dismissed at less than a day's notice. In my view, the unions underestimate the value of the Bill to the workers in these two industries. In the construction industry there are, I know, substantial numbers who remain in employment with one employer. These employees will obviously benefit under the Bill. So, also, will substantial numbers in the shipbuilding industry.
But—and I concede this—it is true that in both these industries many men are employed on short-term engagements and will not stay with one employer long enough to qualify for notice under the Bill. It should be possible for employers and unions in these industries to make better provision for notice on a voluntary basis. Indeed, the possibility of longer notice is already being discussed in the building industry. In shipbuilding there are talks going on 1507 between the leaders of the employers and the unions, under the chairmanship of an official of my Ministry. The object of these talks is to secure agreement on more efficient use of manpower in return for improved security of employment.
Clause I of the Bill lays down that when an employee has worked continuously for two years for his employer there should be at least two weeks' notice of termination, and after five years at least four weeks' notice. This applies whether it is the employee or the employer who is giving notice. I must emphasise one important fact here, since there seems to have been some misunderstanding of this provision. The Bill will in no way affect an employer's right of summary dismissal for misconduct. Misconduct can, therefore, lead to the loss of rights which the Bill provides.
The rules for deciding how long an employee has worked continuously for his employer are set out in the First Schedule. Up to now these matters have been left entirely to the contract, and on some of them the position under existing contracts is in doubt. Now that we are definitely laying down statutory minimum standards, the position must be made clear.
There are two points on the First Schedule which I particularly want to mention. First, to qualify for rights to notice an employee must work for at least 21 hours a week for his employer—in other words, at least part-time. It is very much a question of judgment where the line should be drawn here. The object is clear—to exclude from the Bill the man or woman who is definitely a casual worker. The Schedule seeks to achieve this by reasoning that if one works part-time or more regularly for an employer for two years, one will in fact come to depend upon one's income from that source. In turn, the employer will come to count on one's service. I know that a number of hon. Members have views on this and I am prepared to consider, at a later stage, fresh ideas, if these also achieve my objective.
Secondly, the First Schedule lays down rules about the effect of strikes on the period of continuous employment. Any strike before the Bill comes into force 1508 will not affect the continuity of employment. After that date, if an employee who is entitled to statutory notice under the Bill does not give a fortnight's notice of a strike, he will forfeit his rights. The same principle applies to the man who has not yet qualified as a long-service employee. If, for example, he is employed under a contract on a week's notice and fails to give a week's notice that he intends to go on strike, he will have to start qualifying for rights again from the beginning.
It will be clear that what the rules penalise is the irresponsible wild-cat strike. I should have thought that there would be a strong measure of agreement on both sides of the House about this. The Bill imposes fresh responsibilities on employers. They have a right to expect responsible behaviour in return. En a modern society both sides have to accept responsibilities.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The right lion. Gentleman is speaking about penalties falling on unofficial strikers. Will he indicate why no penalties are to fall on employers for Lock-outs?
§ Mr. Hare
Lock-outs are dealt with in the Bill. Probably the hon. Gentleman has not studied that part of it.
These rules are here to set down how the rights of an employee under the Bill stand if he goes on strike and is taken back into employment at the end of the strike. They do not in any way affect a worker's existing obligation to observe the terms of his contract of employment. They do not in any way affect the employer's rights to decide whether or not to re-engage a striker. They do not alter in the slightest the obligations of workers to observe agreements and procedures for settling disputes arrived at between their unions and the employers.
I know that some people think that the Bill should go wider and attempt to deal with some of these problems. I am fully conscious of the damage unofficial strikes do to the country. We cannot afford to go on having 2,000 unofficial strikes or more a year. They mean more than lost production. They mean lost exports and great harm, often, to the public. They are—and we all recognise this—a most damaging weakness in the structure of industrial relations.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Am I right in saying that, under the Bill, Mr. Charles Doyle and the other so-called unofficial strikers in the electricity industry would none the less still be regarded as working under a continuous period of service, and, therefore, entitled to receive their full period of notice, notwithstanding their recent action?
§ Mr. Hare
I wish that I had not given way. The point is that Doyle did not, in fact, go on strike.
On the question of unofficial strikes, I want to quote what Lord Williamson—then Sir Thomas Williamson—said at the Trades Union Congress in 1959. They were wise and responsible words. He said:The breaking of agreements is bad enough, but the consequences in most cases have been much more serious.In some cases whole processes and whole factories have been closed down, and hundreds and thousands of innocent trade unionists, who have had nothing at all to do with the disputes, have been thrown on the streets without wages and often without unemployment benefit.Vital production has been lost, orders have been delayed, and it is this action more than anything else which is likely to undermine the economy on which we depend to maintain full employment.The most satisfactory way of dealing with all this is for the unions to put their house in order. By an assertion of responsibility and leadership, the unions should see that the agreements which they conclude are honoured. As the House knows, the T.U.C. decided last autumn to review the structure and purpose of the trade union movement. In my submission, that review must be carried out quickly and must dead to reforms. If it fails, then the situation will be serious and we must ask ourselves whether we can afford to let things go on as at present. My view is that we cannot.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich) rose—
§ Mr. Hare
I will give way in a moment.
Indeed, there is a strong body of public opinion, by no means based on party political lines, which is demanding that the Government should introduce new legislation to protect the public interest. It would be quite wrong to under-estimate how strong this feeling is.
§ Mr. Marsh
The right hon. Gentleman is using this occasion to make a lot of angry noises on the subject of industrial relations. Does he honestly believe that the possibility that a group of employees might lose one week of their notice in twenty years' time, when they may decide to leave their present employment, is likely to prevent a sudden strike?
§ Mr. Hare
If he is lucky enough to be called in the debate, the hon. Gentleman may make that point in his own speech. I am not making angry noises. I am saying what I think, in all sincerity, to the House.
Clause 2 deals with rights during notice. This is a vital part of the Bill because the right to notice in itself may mean little if not accompanied by rights during notice. Under the Clause, an employee entitled to notice under the Bill has a right to be paid during notice at a rate calculated on the basis of his average earnings over the past six months.
The purpose of this Clause is to prevent a worker having to face a serious drop in pay when he has to change jobs. This, as we know, is often a difficult and anxious time for a man to go through. It is surely right, then, that during notice, worry about pay should not be added to other worries. After all, the person we are concerned with here is the worker who has worked steadily for his employer for two years at least and often for longer.
This provision has also been criticised. The point has been made that a man may be paid more during notice than he earns, as he may have worked overtime in past months and may not be working overtime during his notice. He may be paid more during his notice than workmates who are not being dismissed. His minimum pay during notice may be greater because of bonuses earned in the past which he is not earning during notice. All this is perfectly true. It is difficult to find a formula which will apply fairly over the whole field of employment and give a test which can be used for all. What is clearly essential is that the Bill should ensure that where the contract of employment fixes a wage for a normal week's work, the pay during notice should not fall below this; but when the contract does not fix such a wage there should, in my submission, be a guarantee related to previous earnings.
1511 The Clause leaves elbow room for employer and worker to agree on contracts which make different provision for pay during notice if both sides wish. If the contract gives the worker longer notice than the minimum the parties are free to arrive at whatever terms they wish for pay during notice. Even if the notice is not longer they may agree on different arrangements for pay during notice, so long as the worker is to have rights comparable with those in the Clause, or better than them. The employer can also count any severance pay towards the minimum.
In these ways, the Bill gives the parties room to reach agreements which suit their own needs and circumstances.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
When the right hon. Gentleman uses the expression "the parties" I take it that he means the employer and the person who is employed. Would he agree that it would be far more appropriate if the trade unions concerned had an opportunity to look at the terms of the contract laid down by the employer and if such a contract were not valid unless the appropriate trade union accepted the wording of it?
§ Mr. Hare
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the contract is between the employer and the individual worker, but if the worker is a member of a trade union he will be advised and guided by his own trade union representatives.
Clause 4 of the Bill requires employers to set down in writing the main terms of the contract of employment not later than five weeks after the worker starts work. The terms to be covered are: pay, hours of work, holidays and holiday pay, sickness and sick pay, pension rights and length of notice. The Bill does not deal with the substance of these matters, apart from length of notice. It does not mean that terms under all these headings have to be included in the contract. The employer is at liberty to state that no terms exist on, say, pensions, if there are no pension arrangements.
None the less, this is an important requirement. It gives the worker for the first time a right to a clear understanding of the terms upon which he is employed. He will know as an individual where he stands, and should any question arise over the terms on which he works he 1512 will have definite evidence which can be used in a court of law. Also, he has a right to have the terms of his contract which affect him most closely set down in black and white.
I know that this requirement will be criticised as meaning more paperwork. I have tried to reduce this to a minimum. Employers will be able to refer employees to documents, such as collective agreements, which are made reasonably accessible to them. Employers should be able to use pay slips to notify changes in the terms, at least to show changes in the rates of pay. We may be able to make the rules simpler in Committee and I should welcome any alteration in this direction which is not contrary to the principle that the workers' rights and obligations should be clear and in writing.
These are the main provisions of the Bill. It has been suggested that it will harm industrial relations. I entirely reject that view. It is realty ostrich-like for people to pretend that all is well with our present arrangements for terminating employment. In firms in differing industries throughout the land long-service employees can be "chucked out" at an hour, a day, or a week's, notice, however faithfully they may have served their employer. The Government, for the first time, are intervening in contracts between employers and workers, thus benefiting many millions of workers in factories, farms, offices and shops. For this reason, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Gunter (Southwark)
From the opening remarks of the Minister one would imagine that we were to have a bold, imaginative Bill. I do not think there is any dispute between the two sides on what he said in opening the debate. Of course, we want security for our workers. Of course, we want to bring into the present situation, where there is so much change, a real sense of security so that the workpeople will be properly treated. Our fear is that the Bill will not achieve this object. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, it will raise difficulties within industry which may cause even more unrest. That is not to say that either the Trades Union Congress, the British Employers' Confederation or this House dispute any of the good intentions of the Minister.
1513 These suspicions and doubts of the British Employers' Confederation, of the Trades Union Congress and of Her Majesty's Opposition all arise from the same cause: the belief that this Bill has been drafted without due and proper attention to some of the nuances and influences that affect the working lives of our people; in other words, there has been revealed an absence of an intimate knowledge of what really makes men "tick over" on the workshop floor and what their relationship with management should be.
The Minister surprised me on 4th February when he hold me in the House that because the employers and the Trades Union Congress were both suspicious or contemptuous of the Bill it was therefore bound to be right. I assure him that the reason why the employers and the trade unions have arrived at some of their conclusions—and they are similar—is because of their doubts about certain of the provisions of the Bill. The introduction of this Bill at this time is bound to give rise to some suspicion. The Workers' Charter has been heralded since 1947. It arose originally, if I remember rightly, because of a reassessment of Conservative Party politics following the Labour victory in 1945. The Conservative Party then decided that it was expedient that they should appear more attractive, more desirable, in the eyes of the working classes. Many things have happened since 1947. I believe that nearly every Minister of Labour during the past ten years has had a look at the Workers' Charter, but nothing has happened until this year, perhaps the year of a General Election, when it has been found expedient to drag it out again.
We are bound to express our disappointment at the nature of this Bill. We would have hoped that, in the circumstances outlined by the Minister at the beginning of his speech, when he spoke of the necessity to get a new spirit into industry, to remove fear and to adjust ourselves to a changing world, there would have been a bold, imaginative Bill brought forward to deal with the real problems that affect us. The Minister said that 15 million workers may be affected by this Bill. I doubt whether more than 5 million will be affected by it. Even the Minister's good friend the Economist says that at least half the labour force of the civil engineering and 1514 building industries will not be affected by this Bill. Shipbuilding repairs will still be on a casual basis. I suggest to the Minister that he should not be too bold in saying that this Bill embraces the vast body of British workers. I do not think that it does.
I think that he should by some means or other have brought within the scope of this Bill those people in the greatest need of security—those who, because of the nature of their work, cannot remain with one employer for more than two years. We know of the great building projects which are carried out. They are completed in three stages. One section of workers is used for the first year, another section for the next year, and so on. The people who suffer most from insecurity will not be affected by this Bill.
I turn now to the more important point, the minimum period of notice. Of course, we want our workers to have as much notice as possible. This has been the basic argument of trade union negotiations for a long time. I do not think that there is one Member who would not shrink from the thought of a man being turned out at a day's or two days' notice, but in this Bill it is assumed that there can be equality of bargaining between the employer and the employee. This is just not so. The employee's position is always so much weaker than the employer's. To the ordinary workman, departure from his job because of circumstances beyond his control is almost a major disaster. To him it is a social and economic disaster. The dismissal of an employee may be hurtful to the employer as a man, but it does not greatly inconvenience him. He does not suffer the same sort of crisis as the dismissed workman experiences. We therefore cannot understand—and I hope the Minister will deal with this—why an employee should be required to give the same amount of notice as the employer.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
The hon. Gentleman is making a point of some substance. Would not he agree that in those cases where workers are organised, the organised bargaining power of the workers is at least comparable with, and sometimes greater than, that of the employer?
§ Mr. Gunter
We are dealing with a contract which the Minister has said is 1515 between the employer and the employee, and I am dealing with the terms of this Bill. I believe that it is wrong to assume that there can be this equality. The effect on an individual when he is dismissed is quite different from the effect on an employer.
Suppose a fellow knows that short-time working is just around the corner and that in a month or two he will find himself in serious difficulties. Being a good citizen and wanting to look after his family, he looks for a job in another factory where there is a vacancy. Is it to be held that the bad employer can say to him, "It is not convenient for you to go within a week. You will have to stay for a month because you have been on my payroll for more than five years"? The good employer would not do that.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
This is very interesting, but if a factory is slack and there are workers who are not fully engaged and there is no real opportunity of their being engaged in the near future, the owners have to consider allowing men to go, and in the circumstances would almost inevitably release them as quickly as possible and cut their losses.
§ Mr. Gunter
I trust that the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of the fact that a bad employer, if it was not convenient at that moment to let the men go, would not do so. Suppose one of the industrialists on the benches opposite were in this position. A young fellow, having worked under him for five or six years, said, "Look guv'nor, there is a chance of a job across the road with promotion and better money". Would he ask for six months notice? Of course not. Men do not operate like that. If he were a good employer he would say, "On your way and get the better job". I therefore submit to the Minister that he should consider further this assumption that there should be equality in the termination of employment. It may be that employers will do a bit of forward planning and give a man notice three weeks before they would otherwise have done. I do not know whether the individual will in fact be better off in the end, but these factors have to be taken into consideration.
There is something of a tragedy in Clause 2. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that there has been a move 1516 in many quarters to face the problem of a man being thrown out of work after years of faithful service. I pay this tribute to the best employers. Some people think that we always quarrel with employers. We do not. We appreciate the good employer as much as anyone else does. There has been a move by good employers to appreciate the inhuman treatment that used to be meted out to workmen. The Minister is right in saying that we have not made the progress we should have made, and we have not made the progress they have made on the Continent, but nevertheless there have been indications that the trade unions and good employers were coming together on this matter.
I welcome the signs of good employers being prepared to negotiate progressive pay agreements, but there are still a lot of bad employers, and what worries me about this is that four weeks after the five years will be regarded as satisfactory payment for the man who has done 35 years with a firm. It may be said by some firms that the law lays it down that after five years' service it is fair and reasonable to give a man four weeks' notice and four weeks' pay, but we know that that is unsatisfactory. I submit to the Minister that it would have been far better to accept the Redundant Workers (Severance Pay) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) and deal with this problem in a reasonable way.
I do not know what some of the managers and industrialists on the benches opposite think of Clause 2 (3), which says that a man shall not qualify for pay unless he does a reasonable amount of work. This is bound to give rise to argument if during the period of notice somebody has to judge what is a reasonable amount of work. This is what most of our rows are about. A man can be dismissed—and there is no appeal against it—if the management decides that he has not done what it considers to be a reasonable amount of work.
I think that it is a good idea to provide particulars of employment. I do not know that it will help anybody a great deal, because most of the boys whom I know learnt the terms of their employment when they started. They did not have to wait. I cannot understand 1517 why they should have to wait for five weeks under the Bill. I would have thought that on the day a person commenced employment he would be told the facts of life. I hope that the Minister will reflect upon that point.
I now turn to the part of the Bill that moved the Minister to a flow of oratory. In view of what he said, we gather that the Bill would not have been introduced at this time—and many people were astonished that it was introduced—if it had not been for the pressure of Conservative back benchers demanding some Government action on unofficial strikes. I do not know whether the curious way in which the Minister has sought to relate strikes with continuous employment satisfies hon. Members opposite, but I cannot believe that the provisions of the Bill will do anything to eliminate the causes of industrial unrest, or bring greater discipline into industry.
We can seek to punish men for alleged indiscipline, but unless both sides of industry are really in earnest in their endeavour to find the causes of indiscipline we shall not get very far. We are dealing with Britishers, and when they feel a bitter sense of injustice they sometimes do daft things. The real task is to find the causes that underlie indiscipline.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there are obvious cases in which tiny handfuls of evil men who are given authority over their workmates are incapable of bearing that authority. I also agree that sometimes their motives require them to have a passion for disruption and disorganisation. They are not interested in the well-being of the country, or the working class which they claim to represent. Trade unions have a tremendous responsibility in this respect. It is their duty to impose control, and if they will not or cannot they deserve all the public criticism that falls upon them.
But I want to put this matter in perspective. The people of whom I am talking form a tiny handful of men. The vast majority of shop stewards—that much-maligned body—do a magnificent job for the country. Many leading employers will testify that the wheels of industry could not be kept going without the devoted and often voluntary work of these men, who ease out the tensions of day-to-day life in industry. It would be a tragedy if the idea 1518 that is now prevalent, that every shop steward is some sort of devil, really got hold of the country. Thousands of them are essential to the well-being of the country. I do not dispute the necessity for discipline, or the requirement now placed upon the trade union movement in this matter. The Minister is quite right; if the trade unions do not face this problem there is trouble ahead.
But it is a fascinating study to try to find out why certain great works can live in comparative peace and amity while others in the same industry are in continual turmoil. Why is this? I never find any joy in saying, The management are to blame", or "The shop stewards are to blame". We act like a lot of kids when we say that; but we must agree that in many of these great shops it is possible to see, graphically, whether the management is good or bad.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what sort of Clause he would put into the Bill to cure these problems—about which we agree with him so much?
§ Mr. Gunter
If the hon. Member does not mind, I will make my own speech. Perhaps on an appropriate occasion at the time of the next General Election I will answer that question.
Bad industrial relations occur in works where the lower levels of management are not properly selected. Some of our great firms give first priority to the training and selection of the lower levels of management—the supervisory grades, the foreman and the charge hands. Further, the good firms see that these men get their proper rewards. But the Minister knows of other firms—and he is dealing with them now, so I had better be careful—where the suitability of a man to exercise supervision does not really count; what counts is his capacity to get workmen to stand up to a given norm every day. There is something more in the leadership of men than just driving them, and the best relationships, and the best workshops, exist where the lower level of management is carefully trained and selected. When that is done the firm gets understanding from the men.
Furthermore, in some of our great factories and workshops the channels of communication from the top to the bottom are always clear; the directives are precise, and the men know what they 1519 are doing. The management always has its ear to the ground to detect the rumble. But in other workshops that is not the situation. Before we indict shop stewards we must indict certain managements. Certain areas of management in our industry are as much to blame as are the undisciplined shop stewards, or the workmen on the floor.
§ Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)
I take it that the hon. Member is referring to the motor car industry in some of the things he is saying. Is it not a fact that those companies with more settled labour relations are situated in districts where the population is stable? There are parts of the country where the population is constantly moving. It seems significant to me that in those parts where there are constant troubles on the shop floor there is also a restless population. This is certainly true of the motor car industry.
§ Mr. Gunter
I do not know whether the population is more on the move in Dagenham than it is in the Midlands, and I should hesitate before being drawn into any argument whether there was more original sin in Dagenham than in Luton. All I am saying is that in this matter management must bear its responsibility.
There is another factor to be considered. Small groups of key workers can hold our economic life to ransom. This will become increasingly the case. Just as I resent the concentration of power in the board rooms of the City of London, whereby they are enabled to determine the economic life of the country, so I resent the abuse of power by any small body of key workers. This is one of the great factors that the trade unions must dwell on.
Our concern here is with the overall picture of industrial relations and the necessity to sweeten them. I often feel that we do not give enough attention to the intangibles that affect industrial relations. I wonder whether it is generally appreciated that the danger of industrial unrest in these modern, disinfected, chromium-plated, automated factories is as great as it was in the time of Dickens, if not greater. Work in these factories is a wearisome thing for a man. No person can walk through an automated factory today and see men 1520 doing the same thing, minute after minute, hour after hour, and day after day, without wondering what those men are feeling and what effect their work is having upon them.
May I dare to confess that when I was in one of the great motor factories of Germany watching these men doing these dreadful repetitive jobs I reflected that when the psalmist sang that God had made man only a little lower than the angels he was not thinking of men who have to live and work in the automated factories of the 1960s. This is the atmosphere which gives rise to unrest, frustration and weariness. It is the sort of atmosphere which can make a man undisciplined. Hon. Members opposite have jibed at the tea break. Do they appreciate the importance of the tea break as one of the occasions when a man can escape for ten minutes or more from doing the same thing? The tea break becomes a matter of vital importance to him because it gives him an opportunity to get away from a dreadful repetitive task which must be wearing to his spirit.
I know that the Minister has given careful thought to this, and I should like to ask him whether he really believes that in the end he can legislate for the impatience, irritation and weariness of spirit that arises from the carrying out of the repetitive processes connected with automation. I may be wrong, and I do not propose to be dogmatic about it, but I have the feeling that it is within industry that these things will have to find their outlet; that they will be solved by education and patience. I am not arguing that some legislation may not be necessary to deal with issues when the State itself is endangered by the activities of men who are undisciplined. But I believe, and I say this sincerely to the Minister, that his unceasing and very sincere efforts over the last few years to bring both sides of industry together, industry by industry, may have a far greater effect than any of the provisions in this Bill. I am, therefore, a little sorry that the Minister has seen fit to introduce this Measure.
What does it do? It provides that workers who are required to give a fortnight or more notice of termination of employment must give a fortnight's notice of a strike. Those who are entitled to a week's notice, but less than 1521 a fortnight, must give a week's notice of a strike, and those who are entitled to less than a week's notice are not required by the provisions in this Bill to give any notice at all. The penalty for failing to give notice of a strike is the loss of continuity of employment and, therefore, the loss of the right to extended notice of termination of employment. That is a right situation to be in, is it not?
Members of the same section working at the same plant could be in different categories and such distinctions could not be maintained. If there came a time when there was a failure to settle a wage argument and strike notices had to be given in, do hon. Members think that the general secretary or the executive of a union would be placed in that position? Of course not. The Minister knows the answer to that one as well as I do. The employers know the answer. As soon as any big union becomes involved in a pay claim with a great industry the union puts in strike notices a month ahead. The employers consider that a pure formality, and if the negotiations go on it is extended week by week; so that at any given moment these three categories of employees become one category, and the executive of the union would have complete control over them for one or two weeks' notice or whatever might be required to be given.
I do not know what the Minister really thinks trade unions would do on this issue. In the event of unofficial action, does the right hon. Gentleman think that in the heat of a row, in the middle of a shift, workers will sit down and gravely consider their "continuity of employment"? They may consider that when the row is over and they are back at work and peace has been restored. Then they will say that there should be no victimisation. And, of course, employers know that now and again there is bound to be trouble and that men will get into a temper. Do hon. Members think that employers will really insist that a man shall lose his continuity of employment? No. There will be no victimisation. Employers and employed will say, "We are back at work again, let us get on with the job". If this happens a few times in industry the provisions of the Bill become valueless.
I am of the opinion that a Bill of this kind can be of little assistance. The 1522 blunt fact is that the unions must equip themselves to be able to deal with conditions in the 1960s. They must assert their authority and enforce discipline over the membership. The employers must respond. It is easy to attack every stoppage as being Communist-inspired. I sometimes wonder about certain of the tendencies of extremist employers. We have cases where employers certainly give the appearance—I do not go further than that—of having Fascist tendencies, as distinct from shop stewards with Communist tendencies.
I should like to quote a case which actually happened and which is within the knowledge of the Minister. It is the kind of case which one could hardly believe would happen in this enlightened age and in the circumstances under which the Minister is introducing this Bill. There was a young man with a dependent mother—I will give his name, Mr. Roy Saich—who was employed by the General Life Assurance Company of Grosvenor Place. At a quarter to five on Friday, 9th November of last year, he was called into the office and given his notice with a month's pay. In his bewilderment he asked why. He was told, "There is no reason to give you any reason why. Your services are not required". The young man went. He was thrown out and his employers refused to give any reason. He went to his departmental chief, but he had not been consulted. The young man was thrown out and the Guild of Insurance Officials asked to see the management. They were adamantly and arrogantly refused any right to see the management in order to establish why the young man had had the sack.
The Minister had the courtesy, in response to a request, to send his officials to see this firm. But his officials were met with a refusal. The firm simply said that it was not because the man had anything to do with the Guild of Insurance Officials. But they would give no reason at all why this young man had been thrown out on his neck. If a firm can do that, if employers can do that, who is being the most bloody-minded? The shop stewards at Fords or the management of the General Life Assurance Company?
§ Mr. Gunter
I submit that when we are considering this matter it is a question for management and trade unions. If the Government have any real intention of genuinely giving security to the workers—that is a matter which deserves first priority in these days of redundancy and change—the Minister should have brought in a Bill dealing with these matters in a bold fashion, dealing with the real problems which are emerging. I am talking of severance pay, unemployment benefit, housing, regional employment, education—these are the vital things that ought to have been considered in an imaginative Measure designed to deal with the circumstances of these days.
We do not propose to divide the House on the Second Reading of the Bill. We shall try to the best of our ability to do something of a major character during the Committee stage discussions. From the hints which the Minister gave in his speech and the rumours we have heard, because he said that he will be "flexible" three times, I am hoping that we can get some meat on to this little skeleton of a Bill during the Committee stage discussions. If not, we shall reserve our right to reconsider our attitude at the last stages of the Bill.
§ 5.10 p.m.
Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I was elected to this House at one of the by-elections which took place in November. I rise to speak on the occasion of this important debate with a feeling of inadequacy not only to the occasion but to the important subject which is under discussion. However, it is comforting to know of the indulgence which hon. Members grant to those who are making their maiden speeches.
I am honoured to represent the constituency of South Northamptonshire, a large rural area of open rolling country lying between the great conurbations of London to the south and the Midlands to the north. The constituency has changed very little down the centuries. We still have our compact villages tucked away in the countryside, and our towns have, in the main, escaped the rapid expansion which has led to problems in so many parts of the country. Those who work outside the constituency find in the delightful countryside more than adequate compensation for a daily journey to factory and office, making their homes in the 1524 ironstone and sandstone cottages and properties which harmonise so well with the rural scene.
My constituency has been represented in this House by men who have been called to high office, both here and in another place. Captain Fitzroy, whom senior Members of the House will remember, was elected in 1900 and was Speaker for no less than fifteen years from 1928. He was followed by Lord Dilhorne, known to hon. Members as Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, my immediate predecessor, who made his maiden speech on Midsummer Day 1943 and continued his public service in one of the great offices of State. People in Northamptonshire are proud to have had such distinguished Members.
It is in the main a farming community. We have some small towns, but this is cattle and sheep rearing country. Good pastures provide early maturity, and there are excellent markets in and near the constituency to which buyers come from near and far, both from home and abroad. The farming community, accustomed to changing circumstances, man-made and otherwise, are having a particularly hard winter. Feeding stuffs, last summer difficult to harvest, are now difficult to get out to the cattle in the bitter weather of the past few weeks. However, the steadiness of purpose which characterises those who live by the soil will see us through until the season changes and the land is workable again.
We are, however beginning to feel the impact of industrialisation and the mobility of population. To the north, the industrial Midland area is spilling over into Daventry, where new industries are being established and families brought in to man them. At the same time, they are providing work places for many local men and women.
I hope that the planning authorities will see to it that factory premises are carefully sited and that residential development will take place, not only on new estates, but on sites made available by demolition of out-moded and worn-out properties. Redevelopment provides an opportunity to ensure that we do not allow our town and village centres to deteriorate and that land available there is used to the best advantage. Such a policy 1525 would also lead to economies in land use, the preservation of agricultural land and the rural scene.
There are but a few large factories in my constituency. The smaller companies, representing a wide variety of employment, enjoy the personal relationships and understandings which are happily invariably present where owners and managers are in close touch with their employees. In farming, where such revolutions in husbandry have occurred, teamwork is essential to success. Here we have no experience of demarcation disputes, despite the great adjustments inevitably associated with a reduction in the labour force of 22 per cent. over the past eight years and an increase in productivity showing an average of 5 per cent. per year. This splendid achievement on the part of the agricultural industry has been made possible by a readiness to adapt and improve, aided by the ingenuity of our engineers and scientists, who have been prolific in their ideas, which farmers have been ready to put to good use.
Good relationships in industry are vital to our economic welfare, and it is for that reason that I welcome the Bill. Its proposals provide for increased community of interest and set out to establish a personal link between management and labour, with emphasis on mutual advantages, which are an essential to any satisfactory relationship. It is to be hoped that its effectiveness will benefit not only those whom it enjoins but our economic life in the broadest sense.
Industrial relations is one of our great problems, and efforts to improve them must be in the forefront of our endeavours to increase productivity and ensure our competitive position in world markets. The challenge is clear for all to see, and without success in this field the outlook is bleak indeed. Scientific and technical advances must be readily implemented and utilised to the full under sound management, with labour willing and anxious to secure the higher productivity which can be achieved. Men must be ready to accept the new tools which enable a job to be done more efficiently, and learn the new skills which changing methods demand.
We live in times of great change, and the speed at which changes take place 1526 seems to quicken year by year. We must grasp every opportunity, if we are to maintain our place in the world. We still have to find ways and means by which to overcome the reluctance which exists in many fields to the adoption of more effective industrial methods. These may be unacceptable perhaps because they lead to a lessening of the labour content or because of the fear that men have of working themselves out of a job.
It is in those industries where increased efficiency is so necessary that this situation is most likely to occur. Falling demands lead mean to spread out the work, thereby adversely affecting costs, in turn making the industry less competitive. This is a vicious circle, particularly so where we find ourselves up against vigorous overseas competition.
Conditions must be created in which those prepared to give a good day's work for a fair day's pay shall enjoy continuity of employment. However, it must be accepted that from time to time men may have to change their jobs as conditions vary from one industry to another. Where changes are necessary, they must be effected with the minimum loss of income. If new skills need to be acquired, retraining facilities must be readily available. In this context lie the questions of unemployment and sickness benefits, redundancy, industrial retraining and apprenticeship schemes, mobility, and housing. But this is not the occasion for me to give my views on these important issues.
The Bill breaks new ground and is a step forward—a hesitant one, perhaps—in the relationship between management and worker. The law plays little part in industrial relations, negotiations on terms and conditions settled between management and unions, often appearing to be on a horse-trading basis. There appears to be no overall consideration based on productivity and the necessity to keep our prices competitive.
A recent report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development deals with the United Kingdom's balance of payments difficulties, rising costs and prices. It states:The United Kingdom is a striking example of a country which was caught in a sort of vicious circle; a low growth rate made it difficult to avoid prices being pushed up by 1527 rising, money incomes; higher prices further weakened the competitive position and intensified balance of payments difficulties; and these developments made periodic restriction of demand unavoidable, which further interfered with growth.The events of the past few weeks emphasise the necessity for an all-out effort in the industrial and economic spheres. Success or continuing indifference will undoubtedly determine our position on the world stage and the rôle we are to play in the years ahead. We need long-term agreements between industry and the unions, taking into account the difficulties of our present circumstances.
Settlements of hours and wages must have regard to potential productivity and be related throughout industry and commerce so to minimise what we have experienced hitherto, namely, the escalating of wages, one award being used as justification for increases elsewhere. Hitherto our efforts have been ineffective. Throughout the country there is growing concern over the incidence of wildcat strikes and unofficial action by a handful of union members and officials. Industries are so interdependent these days that such actions have far-reaching effects and the present incidence is undoubtedly leading to a serious loss of output and productivity, a state of affairs which must not be permitted to continue.
The application of new techniques and the acquisition of fresh skills are not, perhaps, to be limited to industrial processes. In our present discontent it may be necessary for new methods to be tried in industrial relations. Management and unions have obligations to the nation, their employees and to themselves. They have far reaching responsibilities and our economic salvation is primarily in their hands. Their duty is clear.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), who has just made a most admirable maiden speech, delivered, if I may say so, in a most impeccable manner, started by referring modestly—in the modest way we find acceptable in a maiden speech—to his fear about his own adequacy for the task he was undertaking. He should have had no such fear. 1528 Indeed, the boot is entirely on the other foot. Every hon. Member who has the great and welcome opportunity of congratulating a new hon. Member on his maiden speech recognises that we are totally inadequate to pay the full tribute and welcome one would wish to pay to a new hon. Member coming here.
The hon. Member referred to the distinction of his predecessors and, for a moment, I thought that he was getting near the lines of controversiality when he referred not to a previous Speaker of the House but to someone we know a little better—and the hon. Member described the great ability of the present Lord Chancellor. But he did not overdo it. The hon. Member for Northants, South should have no hesitation about following his two distinguished predecessors. He is a very distinguished hon. Member himself already, for it is a matter of considerable distinction these days to see a new hon. Member on the benches opposite. I congratulate him on the knowledge of his constituency which he demonstrated in the earlier part of his speech and on his wise and careful approach to these problems. I also congratulate him on the objectives to which he referred and which, I think, I share with him. There may be some difficulty about the exact way they should be achieved but I think that my hon. Friends would certainly subscribe to those objectives. I can say with absolute sincerity that we enjoyed the hon. Member's speech.
I cannot claim to have been in the House since 1900, when Captain Fitzroy first came here, but I am feeling quite definitely one of the older hon. Members these days. Indeed, a new hon. Member's speech, not only for its content, gives us an opportunity to learn something of the personality of the speaker. When we listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Northants, South his personality was revealed and, for those twin reasons, we look forward to hearing him again and, as I have said, we welcome him to our ranks.
What I have to say will be a little less acceptable to the Minister than my previous remarks. I agree with everything the hon. Member for Northants, South had to say about our objectives and I agree that we need a more efficient economy and improved labour relations. We must also have a greater sense of 1529 security—and I do not use that term in the very limited sense of having security in employment only. I underline the need of having a sense of security of a more fundamental kind.
The sense of security which a growing child needs and the sense of security which an adult needs are much the same. With a growing child the sense of security is fed by parental love and affection. What destroys the sense of security of an adult worker are bad labour relations, anxiety about his employment and the termination of it. If a man is relaxed and confident, as anyone who has a real sense of security demonstrates, he is a person with whom one can get on, with whom one can deal and to whom one can explain things knowing that he will not misunderstand them. With such a man one can develop good labour relations; and by using the word "he" I mean, of course, both male and female workers.
It is clear that we all agree about these things. To demonstrate this I could not use a better text than the Minister's own speech on unemployment, which I referred to last week and which he referred to partly today. I recall that passage in which the right hon. Gentleman said:…we must adjust ourselves to more rapid and industrial technical advance and the cones-quest changes this must have on employment. We should not and cannot allow this to take place at the expense of the individual. The fear of change and what it can mean is a powerful incentive to resist change and to slow it down by all possible means. We have to ensure that the need for change is accepted and that there is co-operation in creating an efficient and more flexible economy. The problem of security of helping the worker to face change with confidence—is basic to our industrial efficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1963; Vol. 671, c. 65.]All the philosophy that informs the Minister's speeches I find completely acceptable. I only wonder why he keeps on repeating it and does nothing about it. I only wonder whether when he is making his speeches, he is trying to persuade the Minister of Labour to accept his point of view. I can think of no other reason. He seems to have forgotten that he is the Minister of Labour and that he should be bringing in legislation seeking to achieve the very objectives he describes. He keeps on describing them, but does little about 1530 them. This Bill does practically nothing about them.
The first thing to be done is to establish a recognition on the part of every man and woman that the right to work always, every week, is an inherent right of every man. That is absolutely fundamental. It does not mean the right to work in the same job and in the same place for ever. It cannot mean that, because the freedom that the worker himself demands results in changes in the pattern of spending, results in changes in the pattern of production, and results in changes in employment but, without exception, we must recognise this fundamental right. That is not adequately recognised yet, and I shall demonstrate that it is not recognised at all in the Bill.
We must see that there is between society and the worker an attitude that can be expressed most simply as follows: we, society, say to the worker, "We need you, and you need us. We need your work, and we need the product of your work. Relax, because although you cannot have full employment at this job in this place for ever—because of what you and your wife demand—we, society, will look after you. If there is no longer a job here, there will be one somewhere else. If it is not the same job, we will retrain you for the next job. You will suffer no hardship in the meantime. You will be protected. You will be trained. You will receive adequate, if not absolutely full wages during that period. If there is, as there inevitably is, some hardship in switching from one place to another over an indeterminate period, we will see that you are compensated for that hardship ". If society would talk in that way to the worker, the worker would begin to relax. He would begin to feel secure in the most fundamental sense.
Not until the worker feels that sense of security shall we be rid of all the happenings such as the go-slow, unofficial strikes, and a whole host of things that claim to be related to some minor problem about the works lavatory, or something like that, but have no relation to it whatever but stem from a fundamental lack of a feeling of security. It is the sense of security that we have to develop.
How does the Bill meet that point? It does not.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
Would the hon. Member go so far as to say that the recent go-slow in the electrical industry was caused by a sense of insecurity?
§ Mr. Diamond
I have no first-hand information. I did not listen to any witnesses. The hon. and learned Member never comments on a particular set of events without hearing the evidence. I have not heard any witnesses on what happened in that case, so I do not know, I do know that those to whom my right hon. Friend referred as "bad men" are the tiny majority. But we are all human beings, whether at work in the House of Commons or outside it, and our fundamental need is a sense of security. We have not sufficiently recognised that in the case of the worker—
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
I must tell the hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) that the go-slows in the electricity supply industry involved less than 1 per cent. of the men. Is he not aware that over 90 per cent. of the men were engaged in very hard overtime work? It is only fair to state that fact with the other.
§ Mr. Diamond
This Bill fails in several major ways. In it there is one error of commission, one error of omission and two profound psychological blunders.
The error of commission, of course, is the attempt to equate the rights of the employer and the rights of the employee in regard to termination of employment. I find that difficult to describe in Parliamentary language. There is not a single employer—and I talk now as an ex-managing director, not as an employee—who does not know that if he runs his job with a minimum of efficiency he will have pretty good warning of when he wants or has to dispose of certain classes of labour—not one.
The industry that is always put forward as the worst case is the contracting industry. I know that the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking) has great experience of this industry, and there was a time when I, too, was very closely concerned with it and had considerable responsibility in it. In the contracting industry, although there is a minimum period of notice, no single job is undertaken until there has first been plotted a complete diagram of the categories of 1532 labour needed and the periods for which they will be used.
One can see the graph going up and down, and one knows by the colours on it—this is done first, before one digs foundations, or anything—exactly which categories of labour will be wanted on given dates. On large jobs one can give six months' notice of need and, on a small jab, quite a considerable period of notice. This has nothing to do with the weather—the industry has dealt with the weather by means of the minimum week. That has been regular procedure for contractors for years and years. During the war, every contract for the Ministry of Works had Ministry of Works men drawing up the graphs of labour demand. Everyone knows about that.
From what source, therefore, does the Minister of Labour get the information that makes him feel well advised to bring in a Bill containing the proposition that the employee must have the same rights as the employer? There is not the same requirement, the same sacrifice or the same need. There is the superficiality that one person is called the employer and another is called the employee, but that is not a reason for treating the two alike. That is a fundamental failing Lin the Bill.
How does the Minister expect that Bill Buggins, or whatever he may be called, having heard that a job is going—and having been warned, as he is by a good employer or, by a bad employer, given the minimum notice, whatever it may be, dependent on the length of service—will be able to go round the corner at eleven o'clock in the morning and get the job? How does he expect the employee to remain where he is for another two months? Therefore, why bring in a Bill that contains such utter nonsense, which cannot be worked—
§ Mr. Hocking
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) referred very kindly to the contracting industry, and stated that graphs are drawn up at the beginning in order to plot the number of men required at any given time. Would he also agree that it could be very destructive on any site for a key person to withdraw his labour at two hours' notice, or a day's notice when, on the other hand, the man could only 1533 be given notice of not less than a fortnight? If, on a modest site, a scaffolder—a skilled man, upon whom the rest of the work depended—wanted to leave, is it not reasonable to expect him to give a week's notice?
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow Govan)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Are you aware that a very large number of Members desire to take part in the debate? May we ask that interruptions be reduced to a minimum and that long interruptions be regarded as speeches?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I do not know how close that really got to being a point of order, but I hope that the House will bear in mind that there are many hon. Members on both sides anxious to speak and that lengthy interruptions make speeches themselves even longer than they might otherwise be.
§ Mr. Diamond
I have heard and taken careful note of what you have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I share the view of my hon. Friend that interruptions, even on the most important points of order, are bound to extend the length of speeches. Perhaps the hon. Member for Coventry, South will, in the circumstances, excuse me if I do not reply on a point of detail but proceed at once to my second main criticism of the Bill.
The principal error of omission is the failure to bring forward a Bill which, by being balanced, by giving something material to the worker as well as giving help to the employer, would make itself an acceptable Bill in totality. Here was the occasion, if ever there was, to pay regard to what the Minister himself has said and what the Prime Minister hinted at only two days ago about the need for avoiding individual suffering as a result of redundancy when there is change. I remind the Minister of his own words:We should not and cannot allow this to take place at the expense of the individual.What is there in the Bill for the avoidance of the hardship to the individual which the Minister says is inevitable if there is to be change and if our society is to prosper? Why not bring in a Bill to deal with it? The Minister said, on the subject of notice, that voluntary arrangements are all right if they are effective, 1534 but, if they are not effective, one has to bring in legislation. He told us that in only 16 per cent. of industry, after all these years, are there anything like satisfactory schemes for redundancy payments or severance pay.
I say that a Bill which ought to deal with redundancy and fails to do so in any way at all is worse than no good at all. It turns its back on severance pay. It refers to severance pay only for the sake of defining it, and, having defined it, says that it shall be deducted from something else from which it should not be deducted at all and with which we shall have to deal in Committee. This is not the way to encourage a sense of security in the worker. This is ham-handedness on the part of the Minister. Having made the point time after time as a statement of principle, he brings forward a Bill to deal with employment. Everyone is agreed on the need for severance pay or redundancy schemes of some sort, and everyone hopes that, at last, the Bill will deal with these matters. But there is not one word in it except a definition and a statement that, if someone gets both salary in lieu of notice and redundancy pay under his contract, one of them has to go. This was the major error of omission.
Now, the two psychological blunders. At a time when we have nearly I million unemployed, the Minister has brought in a Bill which concentrates almost exclusively on providing methods for terminating a man's employment. It is really about the most ham-handed thing the Minister could do. I am very cross with the right hon. Gentleman. It is not that he is stupid or does not know. He has learnt it all. He knows it all. He says it all. But he, like the rest of the Tory Government, does nothing about it.
The Bill can be looked at only with suspicion. I can show the Minister letters from every trade union with which I have had correspondence. The employers do not want it. The employees will regard it with suspicion. How could they do otherwise? People are extremely sensitive about possible redundancies, yet all we are given in the Bill is new legislation providing the precise terms on which they can be sacked. That is the way they will look at it. They are given nothing but a piece of paper. After five weeks, a worker is given a piece of paper. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to imagine the 1535 reaction of a workman with red blood in his veins who has been five weeks in a particular employment. The right hon. Gentleman is the boss, and the worker is fearful about possible redundancy in the area. He, the boss, goes to the workman and says, "You have been a good fellow. You have been here five weeks, so I will give you a piece of paper telling you how you can be dismissed". I suggest that the worker will tell the right hon. Gentleman what he could do with his piece of paper.
§ Mr. Diamond
It is no use hon. Gentlemen rejecting what I am saying. It only shows that they are unaware of the feeling which exists in the factories and among the trade unions about it. They may feel that they are being jolly decent and giving something to the workers, but, in fact, they are not. They are giving precious little. They are giving crumbs of comfort only, and to give crumbs of comfort only to a man who is hungry, at a time when he feels that there should be a considerable meal put before him, is to give no satisfaction at all. It makes him very angry. That is why I say that the Bill makes two cardinal psychological blunders in concentrating on the termination of employment.
If anyone is not aware of what the Bill does, let him read the Title—To require a minimum period of notice to terminate the employment of those who have been employed for a qualifying period, to provide for matters connected with the giving of notice"—and to require the giving of a piece of paper with particulars of the terms of employment. It is only a piece of paper because the contract, whether written or not written is still a contract. The only thing the man gets is the extra piece of paper. The Bill produces nothing of real value and, far from improving labour relations, it is likely, if anything, to weaken and damage them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) said, why on earth did not the Minister bring in a Bill appropriate to 1963? We are all agreed about the objectives. Who or what is the Minister afraid of? Is he afraid of the employers? On the whole, 1536 employers are in favour of redundancy payments. Many employers go out of their way to speak about the need for making redundancy payments. One very enlightened employer has even been here to talk to back-bench Members opposite in their Committee upstairs about the need to make redundancy payments. What is he afraid of? How much longer will he drag his feet? If he knows that that is the kind of legislation required, why not bring it in?
The Bill is really so lacking in any contributions to the needs of the day that the fact that it has been postponed and postponed week after week is no great tragedy. For my part—I say this very definitely—if it had been postponed for several further months or completely postponed, I should not have minded at all. Only if, which I very much doubt, we can in Committee bring in severance pay and all the other needs which everyone recognises to exist shall I, for one, be prepared to vote for the Bill on Third Reading.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) paid a gracious tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) on his maiden speech, a tribute which I endorse most warmly.
Like his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), the hon. Member for Gloucester rather ponderously overstated the case, such as it is, against the Bill. I have a feeling that representatives of both employers and trade unions outside the House are a little piqued because my right hon. Friend has wisely asked the House to do by legislation what they could and should have done by negotiation a long time ago. It is agreed, I think, that the Bill is sound in principle, although, as most Bills do when first presented, it needs amendment in detail.
The speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, which was, I thought, courageous and helpful to a great extent, was based mainly upon his experience of organised labour in factories. But, of course, we have to take a much wider view of the employment problem than that.
May I ask the House to consider the magnificent efforts of all those workers 1537 who keep things going in this perishing winter. People on the farms, in face of enormous difficulties, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South knows so well, kept us supplied with food and milk. We are grateful to the people who work on the roads. I agree that the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark about those who work on the railways are rather more relevant in this connection. Many of these people who have had such an awful time bearing the brunt of the difficulties of recent weeks did just the same in 1947. They have worked for the same employers continuously ever since and could be sacked tomorrow at a week's notice. Surely, in this enlightened age, that is a fantastic situation. Equally bad on the other side of the picture is the way in which major industrial disputes so often grow from minor misunderstandings about the terms of employment.
I therefore do not see how anyone can but welcome the Bill in its broad objectives. It has three great advantages. First, it gives greater security to millions of workers who have little or none at present. Secondly, it gives greater security and some encouragement to steady workers who are prepared to stay in a job and master it instead of flitting from one job to another, thus causing wastage and inefficiency. Thirdly, by saying that the essential terms of employment shall be written down it will reduce misunderstanding and thereby reduce strikes and disputes. Incidentally, it may also save trade union officials quite a lot of work, and I am sure that it will do so without diminishing their status.
Broadly speaking, the Bill as drafted fulfils these objects. If there is anything in it which interferes with the fulfilment of those objects, I say without hesitation that it should be amended. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has shown that he has an open mind about the details of it.
I hope that I may say as a lawyer that Clauses 1 and 2 are founded and improve on the common law. The common law says that when no period of notice has been agreed, reasonable notice must be given on either side. The common law relies for what is "reasonable notice" on the custom in each trade. The custom nearly always prescribes too short a notice by modern 1538 standards, and I know of no trade in which the notice lengthens with the length of service.
The Bill, by requiring two weeks' notice after two years' service and four weeks' notice after five years' service, makes a great advance on the common law. I should have been prepared to accept a simple formula of one week's notice to be given by the employer for each year of service, on which, no doubt, the hon. Member for Gloucester will be glad to find that I am in agreement with him. But, obviously, that formula could not work both ways. If the employee is to give the same length of notice to the employer as he has to give the employee, about which I have some doubts which I will mention, it must be kept short, or good men with long records of service will miss opportunities of bettering themselves by going at short notice to other jobs.
Is it really necessary for the Bill to provide that the employee has to give as long notice as the employer, or, indeed, any notice at all? I know that this is a difficult question. It is tempting to say that, as the Bill imposes fresh obligations on employers, it should require some reciprocity by the employees who are to benefit. But I believe that most employers—I do not speak as a large employer; I am one of those who has not been involved with trades unions or employers—regard a sanction of that kind as rather unrealistic. It gives a theoretical right which in practice is unenforceable and certainly is not worth the trouble of enforcing on most occasions. To that extent, I agree with the British Employers' Confederation.
The Government should consider making Clause 1 apply only to notice given by employers. If they decided the matter in that way, it would be possible to widen the scope of the Bill by dealing also with severance pay for redundancy, thus meeting the wishes of the hon. Member for Gloucester. The simple formula of one week's notice or severance pay for each year of service might be found to be the best way to do it. I am not stating dogmatically that it would be, but merely putting the point forward for consideration, since I do not claim to be an expert in these matters.
As the hon. Member for Southwark candidly pointed out, no domestic matter worries people more than the way in which 1539 a minority of workers can, by unofficial strikes, prevent the whole community, including their fellow workers, from going forward to greater prosperity. Indeed, they can hold the whole community up to ransom at a very awkward time. But I am sure my right hon. Friend is right to leave it to the trades unions to put their own house in order. I am glad that they are considering the whole question of unofficial strikes, among other matters, but I hope that they will not be too long about it. The trades unions and the employers' organisations do not work as fast as we do in this House. They are inclined to bumble along in their own sweet way. This is not a matter on which the country will indefinitely tolerate bumbling along at the pace to which they are accustomed.
It is tempting to use such opportunities as the Bill gives to solve or mitigate the problem of unofficial strikes, but I doubt very much whether it is feasible in practice to do what the Bill does by requiring workers with over two years' service to give two weeks' strike notice while others working beside them give whatever notice is customary or agreed, which will generally be found to be one week. There is a strong case for saying that all workers shall give two weeks' strike notice, which is now fairly common practice, but we should avoid the risk of having different periods of notice for workers in the same factory or even the same industry.
I wish to make only one other detailed point and that concerns the application of Clause 4, dealing with written notice, to casual, seasonal or temporary workers. Here I speak, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South, as Member for a large farming constituency. We grow a tremendous quantity of crops in my constituency, especially root crops, and much of the work is done at piece rates by well and properly organised gangs, which are formed daily as a rule by a gang master who arranges transport, bargains with the farmer and pays the workers. The contract between the farmer and the gang master is generally not a daily or weekly one but a contract for a particular job, like lifting 10 acres of potatoes.
Mr. Niall MaeDermot (Derby, North)
It is the same in the building industry.
§ Mr. Renton
Sometimes the people may be employed for a long as 21 hours a week and for as many as five weeks in succession with the same farmer, but even so they will be doing different jobs at different piece rates, and incidentally the rates will often he a bit above the statutory rates.
If the provisions of Clause 4 are to be applied in those circumstances, there will be many complicated bits of paper flying about. There has to be one for each employee. I therefore have great sympathy with the National Farmers' Union in this matter.
I do not know how the Government came to choose 21 hours as the minimum for regular employment. My right hon. Friend the Minister indicated that it was half a normal working week—it sometimes will be and sometimes it will not—but wherever the line is drawn, there will be difficulty. It would be better to say that the requirements of the Bill apply only to regular and whole-time workers and shall not apply to casual, seasonal or part-time workers.
My attitude to the Bill can be described in the well-known phrase of my 18th century constituent, Mr. Brown, the landscape gardener:I think that it has great capabilities.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am glad to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), who has just made what I believe is his first speech from the back benches since he moved up. I express sorrow in one way and joy in another. The hon. and learned Member began with a well-deserved tribute to all those people who have stood by us in the perishing winter. The hon. and learned Member would have been nearer the mark had he spoken about the perishing Government at the same time.
I was glad, however, that the hon. and learned Member came down on a view which, I believe, is held widely in the House—I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to note this—and which appears in every one of the references that I have had by trade unions in my capacity as the secretary of the 100-strong group of trade union Members in this House, that there can be no parity as between the 1541 notice that an employer can give and that which an employee can give.
An employer can give notice completely objectively without any hurt to himself. I have already mentioned in an intervention to the Minister that the Bill says nothing about penalties for lock-outs. As to an employee, however, one can consider the 101 examples when he might need to have a pretty quick get-out from a job.
Somebody has mentioned the lower levels of management in industrial relationships. This is the black spot throughout industry. It may be that I tend to tinge justice with memory, because I have been nearly 44 years a member of a trade union, but all my difficulties were with foremen. I could always get agreement at top level with the managing director, only to find always that there was great resentment by the foreman that a shop steward had access to the top level.
I remember the occasions when an employee was given hardly an hour's notice. I speak with respect but with far more practical knowledge than either the Minister or his deputy. I looked up their social background in "Who's Who". While the Parliamentary Secretary's hobbies are given as golfing and shooting, his senior's are golfing and gardening. Let us bear in mind their social background. If I appear to speak with feeling, it is because I am subjective.
I remember what happened in the early 1920s. The Bill probably applies more to engineering than to any other industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] To start with, it is the biggest. I remember the times in the 1920s when a massacre would take place in the shop. There were 200 people to be paid off. The foreman was looking down from his office. Everybody was hunched up wondering whether it would be himself or somebody else. Those were the realities of life.
I remember a creature named White, a Scotsman—
§ Mr. Pannell
If my hon. Friend does not like the name, it could be Rankin—but it was not. I am dealing with one of the lower forms of life. This chap came up and said, "What's your name?" 1542 A man might answer, "Rankin". The man then used to say, "I have some very sad news for you, Rankin. You are fired."
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes, often, but I deserved it less. I can only say that the degree of exultation which that chap got out of it had to be seen to be believed. Those types were not rare. I hope that after ail these years, that chap is roasting somewhere in the flames of hell.
Hon. Members should not underrate the collective memory of the trade union movement. Nobody need tell me that I am nourishing old grievances, because I am well enough known to be able to say that I do not. One of the jobs that I do now, however, is to give lectures to ex-officers who enter civilian life. I am very much moved by men who have broken at the rank of major or commander and want to enter civilian life. I give them lectures on the trade union movement. I am appalled at the abysmal ignorance of those people who will have to deal with trade unionists.
I have to remind them that the trade union movement also has its battle honours. We have Tolpuddle, Peterloo and the sort of memories of which I have spoken. It may not be so in London, but in my constituency, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, there is still a collective memory of old wrongs. It should not be thought that they are entirely ironed out. The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Shaw), will know that there is a collective memory. Part of the strength of Yorkshire is that it has a collective sense, which I am glad that it still has.
When we talk about the trade union movement, people speak about old grievances, but when we talk about the Services and the great, long history of the nation, they are called traditions. They are the same thing. People sometimes talk about the odd man—the non-unionist who has been persecuted to the point of death and sent to Coventry because he has not joined a union. In the days when my photograph was circulated up and down the country by the Engineering Employers' Federation as a man to be employed nowhere at all, there was no sympathy. When the shop 1543 stewards bring people out now in Oxford, in the same place where I had to go under a nom de plume, my heart rises a bit when they demand 100 per cent. trade union. These are the facts of industrial life.
It is to their credit that, in the main, the Conservative Administration admitted directly they were returned in 1951 that the pre-war attitude of the Conservative Party to the working class, to the trade unions and to unemployment must go. Hon. Members opposite know full well that that is so. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) chose his Minister of Labour with the greatest care. He chose the present Lord Monckton, who so regarded his office that he refused to make a political speech at any time while he held that office. He regarded it almost as a semi-judicial function.
The Trades Union Congress has been quoted by hon. Members opposite, and rightly so. I am glad that they have changed their attitude about it. Make no mistake, the trades union movement is one of the great estates of the realm, by which I mean a body that can give or withhold supplies.
In saying this, I will probably clash with some of the members of the Trades Union Congress. I am all in favour of giving the T.U.C. all possible recognition, but the considerations that affect the day-to-day life of workers in factory, mine and mill cannot be kept out of this place because of any hesitation outside, whether by employers or the T.U.C. It is something which must be our concern here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) dealt with the Bill so much in detail that I may tend to refer to it more philosophically, but I hope that the House will bear with me. The weakness in our society today is that it is too much a class society. I am not now speaking about class and class but within the working class, within the people who work, there is a certain dichotomy. We have the difference between the white-collar worker and the blue-collar worker, as he is known in the United States. The white-collar worker was born of the time when he was given security, which was a great thing in times of unemployment. He 1544 could come in at 9 o'clock in the morning, whereas the other men came in at 7.30, and he was given the holidays and on the pay roll he was called "Mr.".
We now have the realisation of full employment. The things which were of value to him then are no longer here, because in a time of full employment the blue-collar worker comes completely into his own. He is in great demand. If he is a craftsman the blue-collar worker may have training and skills, but on the other hand the philosophy of hire and fire still follows him around. One of the objections to this Bill is in the crafts and occupations which are most open to the blast of seasonal weather, of foreign competition and the exigencies of hire and fire. They are completely outside the scope of the Bill. Therefore the Bill should be widened.
Again, the blue-collar worker has the great tradition of the trades union movement. He is protected throughout by the Factories Act, whereas white-collar workers are only just coming into their own, with legislation about their places of employment. There is another dichotomy in the industrial situation, namely, those people in the sheltered and the unsheltered trades. In my own union of nearly 1 million members there are nearly 800,000 in private industry, open to the full blast of foreign competition and another 200,000 in sheltered industry. Within my constituency an employee of the Leeds Corporation can serve local government to the end of his days and can get superannuation based on two-thirds of his salary in addition to other pensions, whereas another man in a private factory can have paid all his working days towards pension and can be put out on National Assistance to the end of his life.
That is what I mean when I say I want a classless society. I happen to believe that a classless society, together with a warless world, is one of the main aims of all intelligent human endeavour. By that I mean a society where every man is valued and recompensed entirely in the contribution that he makes to society and not from inherited wealth. He is not valued for anything which his father brings into the world but for what he himself does.
1545 People speak about the right to strike. How muddle-headed can people get? The great Reform Bill of 1832 gave the vote to only 4 per cent. of the populace, so consequently the proletariat and the peasantry of that day could demonstrate only by the right to strike. We might remember that as late as 1829 we had the armed labourers' revolts in this country. It is rather strange that the last one took place at Orpington, of all places. The history of the nineteenth century is the history of the struggle of the trade union movement to get the franchise. While it did not have the franchise, the right to strike was the only weapon available.
Of course, I hope more than anybody else that we can come to look upon the right to strike as an outdated weapon which has become absolutely unnecessary, but do not ask the trade union movement to give it up. They will not do so, any more than some of the regiments of the line who wear curious decorations on certain days, such as the rose of Minden, would be prepared to give up their customs. One has to remember when speaking about the British trade unionist that he has all the best qualities of the British infantryman. They are the same people: in trade unionism they have the loyalty, the quality of cohesion, and the ability to fight a losing battle in difficult circumstances. That same spirit is there, whether he is fighting in a war or facing up to some bully on the home front. These are the characteristic attributes of our people, and we must not try to play them down.
Of course we have a nomenclature of our own. What did Jack London say about the blackleg—the product of the fifth day generation on which the Lord made all creeping and crawling things. I have seen a good many men in my lifetime—people who have ratted, who have gone out and wanted the rewards of the things we have fought for and struggled and gone on strike for, and I have never seen a decent man amongst them, with the possible exception of W. V. Osborne, whom I knew very well. He was a Liberal out of his time who I believe would have sacrificed as much for his cause as I would for mine—and that will not be very popular with my trade union friends.
Let us say a word about the shop stewards, and stop talking nonsense. I 1546 have never been a full-time trade union officer. I was interested in local government and served the community in that way, and I had to make the choice early on as to which I wanted. I had the ambition to come into this place, and quite frankly, despite what I see opposite, I am not disappointed. As a matter of fact we might sometimes remember the jobs done by a shop steward. I was mayor of a borough during the whole of the war. Every one of our houses was hit at least five times, and at the same time I was a shop steward on the factory floor, and when the factory was bombed the chief engineer was not much good as an advocate. I did all the advocacy, in endeavouring to get war damage repaired and to get a roof on the place.
I can remember many strange things, including acting as executor of the will of a man who actually died while celebrating on his connubial bed. He had a subarachnoid, which was traumatic in origin, and the excitement killed him. I took his case up because he had been employed by Wimpeys some years before as a sub-contractor where he received a blow on the head, and we got £900 from Wimpeys because he ought not to have had the weakness there.
I was in a fully protected shop—a closed shop—and settling troubles day after day without recourse to trade union officers, at a time when such things as time and motion studies were going on. These things are being done day after day by people to whom we should be grateful.
I will trouble the House with a small rhyme which was published in my trade union journal in 1943, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite are tempted to say silly things they might look it up in HANSARD:Who is the worst paid man today?With haggard look and hair turned grey,Who's blamed when things do not go rightWho gets no rest by day or night?Though never having been to collegeHe must possess the widest knowledgeOn rates of pay and hours of labourAnd how to keep peace with one's neighbour.Of income tax—Yes, I have advised on that as well—Of income tax and how to pay it,What's best to say, and when to say it,The how and which and why and whenOf all the problems known to men.1547If with the foreman he's agreed,He's sold the men or been weak-kneed,When for the men he tries to cater,He's called a blinking agitator.Who is this chap? What! Don't you know him?Or how much you really owe him?This chap, whose torment is assured,Is no one else than your shop steward!I used to have that hanging over my bench. The author was anonymous, but it appeared in the A.E.U. monthly journal in 1943. As a matter of fact, it came out of my subconscious when thinking about my speech.
I want to say generally to the Minister on the broad purpose of the Bill that anything that increases the esteem of the worker and removes him from being just a "hand", just a number on a clock, is something that I stand for and some-think that I want. I remember the first think we did in a certain borough council when I took over the leadership in 1938. We instructed the town clerk that everyone in future was to be addressed as "Mr."—not only the office people. The town clerk found it very awkward. But people take to this idea.
The Labour Party brought 20 per cent. of the economy under public ownership betwen 1945 and 1951, and I wonder whether we had our priorities right. We concentrated on economic issues, and many social relationships were left unresolved. But I happen to believe that social relationships are just as important as economic issues. I also believe that a future Labour Government could devote all their time over five years to social relationships and still justify themselves—dealing with the public school system and all sorts of things like that, the divorce laws, and all those social issues on which the present Parliament has been most cowardly.
Turning to the Bill itself—I am sorry that I have spent so much time outside the Bill, but what we are concerned about on Second Reading is the will of Parliament to assert certain principles, and we can deal with all the points of detail in Committee—the Measure, let us face it, confers no substantial new rights on the workers, although it makes no substantial inroads upon existing rights. Still, it is at least a start. It probably registers a principle.
1548 I have dealt with the question of the minimum period of notice, but I should also like to make the bedrock complaint that those who would most benefit from the Bill are excluded from it. The Bill does not touch at all the large industries where insecurity is a byword. The main provisions of the Bill do not fill any long-felt want. People may argue that the Bill is an attempt by the Conservative Party to give the impression that the Conservatives are interested in industrial security. They proclaimed this message in 1947, but they have been a long time coming round to it. I notice that hon. Members opposite are becoming very interested in reforming the Legislature. They want to strengthen the Legislature against the Executive. They have brought out a document, which is called—
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes. I thought it was talking about the Prime Minister. I believe that the Bill is on a level with that document. A General Election is approaching. The possibility of our having a Labour Government is imminent. Consequently, hon. Members opposite want to strengthen the Legislature against the Executive—a Socialist Executive.
All through the years hon. Gentlemen opposite have ignored every Select Committee on which I have served. There was the Stokes Committee which would have made this a self-respecting place with a body of commissioners to run it instead of having a sort of contemptuous act of grace. Hon. Members opposite have ignored Members' pay and kept this place meanly housed, meanly paid and meanly esteemed, and have given the idea to the country that we are a lot of squalid people. They have propagated that sort of line.
Hon. Members opposite have also ignored completely the Committee on Procedure, on which I served in 1958 and 1959—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot see how the Committee on Procedure can be brought within any reasonable range of the Contracts of Employment Bill.
§ Mr. Pannell
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I do not know quite when you came into the Chair. But I was trying 1549 to develop the argument that this Bill must be seen in its timing only against the background of a General Election.
§ Mr. Speaker
I followed the point. I thought the hon. Gentleman was rather far from the permissible limits in dealing with the Committee on Procedure.
§ Mr. Pannell
Perhaps I shall not be out of order, Mr. Speaker. if I finish by saying that this is all on a par with what the Government are doing now with regard to the subject of this Bill. All that back benchers opposite are doing must be looked at against the background of electoral change.
There is only one thing I want to say with reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter). After all, he represents the more sedentary workers. I wonder whether I can carry the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) with me on this. I think it is a great mistake when people start speaking about the "soullessness" of automation. I have done as much mass production work as most people. The benefit of it is that one need use only half a mind on the job for double the wages. When I was involved in tightening nuts and loosening nuts I was probably thinking about whom I should go out with in the evening. I could do that. Indeed, at the same time I worked out all sorts of speeches for the local council.
There is a world of difference between the two sets of conditions. In a fully automated factory one has fine conditions, clean and decent lavatory accommodation and decent factory facilities and can change one's overalls when one wants to. I have also worked in a factory in one of the industrial slums, working with a hammer and chisel and hitting my knuckles, and working on cast-iron and getting black from top to toe. Do not let hon. Members think that that is better than automation. We have built up an automated economy for one reason only—so that this country can be wealthy, and if this country is wealthy, it can afford the social services that our people desire and deserve. Only in that way can we do it. We cannot do it by looking back to the sort of factory slums that I have in my constituency. We shall do it only by looking forward.
Therefore, if, in spite of everything I have said, the Bill is an intimation that 1550 the Government want industrial attitudes to be brought into a modern setting in which people will be recognised for what they are—not as supplicants on their knees but as men on their feet—then it is a start.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Sir William Robson Brown (Esher)
When I first heard that there was to be a Contracts of Employment Bill I was delighted and had high hopes, but I must now say—and I must register my disappointment at the fact—that this Bill falls far short of the imagination and courage of the Workers' Charter of 1947. I hope that before this Bill is finished, during the Committee stage, it will be given very many more characteristics and sentiments such as were expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), whose speech today I commend to the House and the public. There was very much that he said that I need not now say.
The Minister has, I know, been quite sincere and genuine in believing that he was bringing forward something worth while. But he has brought forward a very poor, weak and puny child. There will be much to be done during the Committee stage. The Bill has few friends and many critics as it stands at the moment. The employers, for many sensible and justifiable reasons, do not like it, and I understand also the objections of the unions in the same way, and many of us who are fully informed Parliamentarians have the same reservations.
The Bill seems to me to be entirely the work of the Minister and his civil servants, and it does not seem to have taken full account of the advice—the good advice—of well-informed people outside. It savours to me—this is what I want most to say about it—of being too much a Bill designed in some peculiar and subtle way to prevent strikes instead of being an integral part of a Workers' Charter, instead of being what I always hoped the Workers' Charter would be. I coined the term "Workers' Charter" because I believed the Conservative Party had a great duty to bring forward a charter for our working people.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), with his fine legal mind, put his finger upon a point which has been ignored in the Bill and which would meet 1551 with a very great response from both sides of the House and, in particular, from my side. He considered that we should have had at least one week's notice for every year of service and a minimum of four weeks' notice for everybody who had twelve months' continuous employment and was accepted as a good worker in a company.
That is what we projected fourteen years ago in the Industrial Charter, and I hope that the Bill, before it finally passes through this House, will include it unmistakably. The drafters of this Bill do not seem to have realised that they were creating three grades of workers in every factory. For five years' service, there is four weeks' notice. These are the first-class citizens. For two years' service, there is two weeks' notice. These are the second-class citizens. For those with under two years' service there is one week's notice at best, with none at all in some circumstances. These are the third-class citizens. There will be three classes of worker in the same company.
When it comes to the question of strikes, however, it is clear that those who drafted the Bill do not understand the mind and the mentality of the British worker. I find it difficult to imagine, in a pile-up in which someone suggests a strike, some of the chaps saying, "We cannot do it for a fortnight", others saying "We cannot come out for a week", and others saying, "We can come out tomorrow morning because we are not bound to give notice". But we all know the spirit of the men under grievances. They will all come out together, and, as the hon. Member for Southwark said, they will never accept victimisation. They will want to start again, de novo, as they came out. Thus, these provisions in the Bill have no validity and no purposes.
I wonder whether the drafters gave sufficient consideration to the man who may wish to leave the employment of a company. A man leaves because he is unhappy and wants to get out. Is it worth while hanging on to him and compelling him to give legal notice? Again, suppose a man has a better job offered to him in the same town, or elsewhere, with greater security or higher pay or both. Could any reasonable employer, if asked by that man to let him go quickly, 1552 refuse? What answer could any decent employer give if a man came to him and said, "I have been offered a better job. I know that you are entitled to notice, but would you mind if I skipped notice and went as quickly as I could?" Under this Bill the long service man would be penalised by such a provision. The hard and arrogant employer may say to a man asking to be allowed to leave at once, "No. I have you under contract." Yet a fellow who has been with the firm for less than two years will be able to walk out to get the other job. That situation is no good.
I believe that it is sound industrial policy that where one has a man on the factory floor who wants to leave one should let him go as soon as possible. If he does not want to stay with one there must be some reason for it and that is a good reason in itself why one does not want to have him remain with one.
The Bill refers to what it calls "a reasonable amount of work". That is a lovely phrase. I wonder whether any lawyer here or anywhere else can define to me what is a reasonable amount of work. It may be that a hard employer will say, "You work until you drop dead. That is reasonable." A workman may be a scrimshanker, doing as little as he can in the longest possible time. A man, because of domestic troubles or sickness, may not want to work overtime. If he declines to do so when asked, it is not a question of "go slow" but a genuine wish not to do overtime. Can one dismiss that man? The phrase does not make sense.
The Bill completely ignores the thing that matters most and which should have been built into it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will yet accept it. We must deal with the burning question of long-term redundancy and long-term compensation. We have to have a new attitude and a new approach to the men and provide for them, as one always can in any successful, worth-while company, a sufficient sum of money, even by insurance, so that if bad times come they do not fall with injustice upon men who have worked with the company for many years. This should have been a basic part of a Conservative Bill.
Whatever the effect of the Bill, it goes nowhere near dealing with the industrial problem of our time. Last year we had more industrial disputes and loss of time than over any of the previous forty 1553 years. Our record was the worst for nearly half a century. The nation cannot go on ignoring these bitter facts. There was an element of acceptance by the hon. Member for Southwark that something had to be done.
Without delay, the Government—and this is the core of what I have to say—should set up an independent commission of inquiry, not an independent commission for Ford's. but something of national character with national personalities, respected and admired, to deal with the conflicting factors making up our industrial life.
One hon. Member has referred to the social aspects of industrial affairs. I do not want a commission of inquiry as a sort of Spanish Inquisition into the unions. That is not the purpose. It must go far deeper than that in its purpose and in its consequences. Nor do I want an attack on the employers. We must fuse together industrial and social policies, industrial planning and social effects.
I am one of those who profoundly believe that our troubles do not stem from hours of work or wages but from something in the hearts of men, in the question of dignity and sense of purpose in their factories and when they go home. A man is a free Englishman in his own home, but inside the factory he finds that he is restricted.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I wonder. We must, perhaps, make exceptions for the Scots.
We need industrial responsibility on all sides before we can secure the social security which is the aim and purpose of us all. I am emboldened, indeed am forced, into saying all this because the Americans and the British at the end of the war started this situation through action and reaction in Germany. It was we who introduced workers' representation in German industry, and the Germans put it to profound purpose. I have here a document by Dr. Alfred Badger, Industrial Relations Officer of the Gas Council. It is called "Industrial Relations in Europe", and I recommend it to hon. Gentlemen. If the commission I suggest did nothing much more than study what is happening in Europe, why there is 1554 there this great renaissance, it would be doing us a profound service.
I cannot but be ashamed. I look at the rise of modern Germany and compare its industrial figures with those of my own country. I am a proud Englishman. We all are. That is not cheap sentiment.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
Scottish, Irish, Welsh, British—whatever the hon. Gentleman likes. He knows what I mean.
British employers and unions are alike. They are tied to 19th century ideas of procedure. One finds such old methods everywhere. We are completely bogged down in negotiating machinery and many other aspects of industrial life. If we were to apply to Great Britain principles which have proved so successful abroad, we could retain our competitive position, regain our prestige and assure our very social and industrial future, for all these depend on a modern industrial philosophy for Great Britain.
I should like in conclusion to make one single point. There is in most of the factories of this country machinery, tools, men and women not being used to full and effective purpose. I do not believe that our country is at this moment of time geared up to the competition and challenge of the world, and it is in this spirit that I ask the House to give consideration to this Bill so that its concept may be so extended and widened as to leave nobody, either on the union side or the employers' side, with any cause for criticism, at the same time dwelling upon and giving support to the idea of an independent inquiry to go into the whole of the industrial aspects of our nation and find new answers to old problems.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
It falls to me to follow the hon. Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown), and I agree with many of his detailed criticisms of the Bill. I would doubt, however, whether it is really necessary to have a great independent commission set up to inquire into the kind of thing about which he was talking. I would have thought that employers' associations and trade unions are well able to inform themselves of all that is going on on the Continent, in countries like Germany and Sweden, and in America, 1555 and to draw their own conclusions, as to whether those are the kind of things that would fit into our kind of industrial life which may be different in emphasis from those in the industrial life of countries like Scandinavia or Germany, or across the Atlantic.
We know that many very useful developments have taken place in conditions of work and in the way in which relationships are carried on between management and men in other countries. I am all for knowing all about them and seeing which of them we could usefully apply in our own country; but I honestly do not think we need an independent commission to do this, and I am greatly afraid that if we were to set up one we should greatly delay the bringing in of modern practices which the best managements are already adopting and the best trade unionists are already urging.
What we have really to do is to spread those rapidly throughout industry. I believe there is great unanimity on the view that many troubles of industry do not arise from wages and similar things but from the kind of things with which we were led to believe this Bill was to deal; and I think there is great unanimity in this House that the Bill hardly moves along the road in dealing with them. I do not wish to repeat points of criticism which have been made by other hon. Members, at any rate not at length. I largely agree with those criticisms, and I have a feeling—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) shares this with me, but I certainly agree with many of the criticisms he made—that this House may make something of this Bill, judging from the unaminity which is shown on both sides of the House about the foolishness, for example, of demanding that the same amount of notice must be given by the employee and employer, about the foolishness of pretending that we can deal with lighting strikes by letting people know that if they strike they will lose the value of continuity. Enough has already been said on that from this side of the House to make it pointless for me to pursue it.
I would just like to throw out one or two points which have not been made. One or two hon. Gentlemen have spoken of status. I think we are all in danger 1556 of going wrong on this. I am sure that in the past I have often got it wrong myself. While we may have been speaking in the right way perhaps we have been defining it in the wrong kind of terms. Status is important in the sense that people in this country at the moment have very different degrees of status and are very much aware of that. We talk of trying to give the ordinary industrial worker the same kind of status as the white-collar worker, but I am sure that this is really a wrong conception. Surely status is a kind of feudal conception whereas what we are trying to achieve is a free society the basis of which is an acceptance of an individual's contract with society or with his place of work and so on.
In such a society there should be, of course, only one status for anyone—the status of a free man in a free society, and perhaps this Bill could be the begin-ing, because it is an intervention by the Legislature with regard to terms of contracts. It is oddly titled, a "Contracts of Employment Bill" That has a legalistic sound, but my legal advisers say that the phrase should be "Terms of Employment" and that it is wrong to talk of contracts of employment since the Bill deals with terms of employment. I do not press that point. If, through the Legislature, we could set minimum limits to terms which will appear in contracts, we could really make a move towards getting everyone who is involved in industry, whether in a quite humble position or a very senior position, on literally the same kind of status with the same kind of security and the same kind of severance pay on loss of employment.
I think it is very often difficult for people who have largely spent their time in managerial positions in industry and perhaps have been lucky in that they have never been out of work, having moved from one secure position to another, to understand this tremendous feeling of insecurity that still applies to so many ordinary people employed in industry. I am sure that it is by dealing with that insecurity, by removing it. by the nature of what is done—and not just by saying, "You need not worry any more"—by the nature of the contract which supports their employment, that we shall greatly improve industrial relations and remove a lot of frustration. I should have thought that if this is an 1557 endeavour to move over to a genuinely contractual system, a system, as it were, of equal obligation, but one basically concerned with improving the position of the ordinary worker, thereby obtaining—to put it in the terms of an employer—that better response which the employer is often trying to get, and is given as the other side of the coin—if that is what we are trying to do, then by amendment we might start on the road with this Bill. But, if that is so, surely it is a little odd that in this day and age the words "trade unions" are not mentioned in the whole of the Bill, for surely they must play some part if there are to be firm contracts of employment. If we want co-operation and the acceptance of terms of contract of employment, trade unions must be involved.
Secondly, what is to happen if, when we have proceeded some way along this road, there are disagreements about contracts or how they are to be carried out? Is not the second necessity to consider whether we should not set up industrial courts specifically to deal with the kind of difficulties and problems that come from arguments about contract of employment and whether they are being carried out or not? I am thinking here of the cases of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Southwark, where a person was "sacked" on a Friday night with no reason whatever being given why he was being sacked. This is the kind of case which I would like to see go to an industrial court and the employer made to answer for his actions. This is a development to which we should pay some attention.
If we start to move along those lines and build into this Bill severance pay—which the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) said he would like—to the extent of an extra week for each year of employment, we would make some progress. I think that this must be looked on not as something which is exactly balanced between employer and employee, but as something which will be successful only if it is another step forward in improving the position of the ordinary industrial worker by providing him with a greater degree of security than he has ever had before.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) invited me to go with him on one or two 1558 points in connection with automation. I do not think I shall try that, because I have never had the pleasure of working in an automated factory. I spent my early days in a foundry. It was certainly very much rougher than the modern automated factory. There was certainly plenty of smoke, but there was also plenty of life and spirit. From my experience in the foundry, I can see that the automated factory has some advantages and attractions, as well as dangers. I do not think that we should do much good if we underlined too greatly some of the frustrations and dangers which can arise in modern factories. They certainly need to be taken care of, but I am sure that they can be.
When the hon. Gentleman spoke about the collective memory of trade unions and those who work in factories, I am sure that he was saying something of which we all ought to take great notice. I cannot compete with the hon. Gentleman in his experience of these matters. I did however, spend four or five of my early industrial years as a foreman, and I noticed that several people remarked how important a foreman was in industry. From that experience I understand what the hon. Gentleman and others meant when they referred to the collective memory, psychology, and atmosphere, which exists among workers on the factory floor.
It has always seemed to me that one of the characteristics which stood out most about the senior jobs in industry, the top levels of management, was that those who held them were given pretty specific and usually written terms about their pay, their privileges, the circumstances in which they could be dismissed, and how they could be dismissed. It has always seemed to me equally clear that one of the chief characteristics of the lower ranks of industry was the absence of such precision and such knowledge of terms. I have, therefore, always thought that one of the most important things that we could do—it may be a limited thing but it is nevertheless important—would be to give to all who work in industry the status which comes from precise knowledge of the terms of employment and conditions in which they can be lost. It is in that spirit that I believe this to be an important Bill, and an important addition to our attempts to improve human relations in industry.
1559 Its field may be limited, but it is important, and to those who belittle it—and it seems a pity that hon. Gentlemen opposite have chosen to belittle the Bill as they have done—I should like to point to the practice of the principles enshrined in this Bill in so many of the leading firms in this country. Surely there we have practical proof of the value of what we are trying to do. Many of the firms in this country which are most successful both in terms of industrial results, in producing good products and selling in the export market, and so on, and of industrial relations, practice what we are dealing with in this Bill.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that good employers demand longer notice on their part for the longer service they give?
§ Mr. Carr
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall come to that, and we shall find ourselves in agreement about it.
I find myself rather puzzled by the official opposition of employers in this country. As a managing director of a fairly sizeable company in this country, I am, I suppose, an employer myself, and therefore any criticism of employers comes better from my mouth than it does from other quarters. I have read the statement issued yesterday by the British Employers' Confederation. It says that it has urged its members that employers should accept the desirability of ensuring the sort of principles we are talking about. It goes on to say that a good deal of progress has already been made in this direction. But has it? The very fact that my right hon. Friend has brought in this Bill is proof that much too little progress has been made.
At the end of their statement they say:It now appears that the Government considers the progress towards longer notice has been too slow In the Confederation's view the proper course is for the Government to say so and give employers and workers an opportunity of adjusting their agreements.I find it difficult to believe that the British Employers' Confederation needed telling. I find it difficult to believe that it did not know without being told.
One of the planks of the Conservative Party when returned to power—though 1560 perhaps not one of the major planks—was to do something about what we called the Workers' Charter. The British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress were approached, I am sure, by Lord Monckton when he was Minister of Labour, and I do not doubt that they were approached by later Ministers of Labour. It cannot be news to them that we have wanted to see progress in this field, and that we have been dissatisfied with the progress so far. It cannot be news to them that on the occasions of these previous approaches we gave way to the request that this should be done by voluntary means and that we should leave it to both sides of industry to get on with it. It is because we have tried that approach several times and after a decade found progress on the whole so miserable, that we have had to act in this way.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
This is an extraordinary line of criticism. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that neither the employers nor the trade unions can be blamed for having forgotten this system, remembering that the Workers' Charter was produced in 1947, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends came into power in 1951, and are legislating now, in 1963?
§ Mr. Carr
That is the whole point of my criticism. We went to the employers and the trade unions when we first got into power. They said, "Do not do it this way, leave it to us". We let it go on for a few years, and went to them again. Once more they said, "Do not do it this way, leave it to us". Still too little happened and so at last we are doing something about it.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
I assume that the hon. Gentleman is in the foundry industry. Has he used his influence with the Engineering Employers' Association, or the National Engineering and Allied Employers' Association to get this kind of agreement? Has he done anything in regard to this? What does the hon. Gentleman do in his own factory?
§ Mr. Carr
My company is not a member of the association of which the hon. Member speaks, but if he wishes I can show him the kind of booklet, setting out the terms of service, which my firm has used for some time.
1561 There is one other point which we ought to bear in mind. I say, with respect, and in no aggressive spirit, both to the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress that there are hundreds and probably thousands of employers who are not members of any association forming part of the British Employers' Confederation, so that even if the Confederation persuaded the great majority of its members to do these things, hundreds and thousands of employers would still not be covered. Similarly, millions of workers are not members of trade unions. That may be bad, but it is still a fact. Therefore, merely to leave this problem of employment to organised labour and organised employers would mean that we would be taking no account of a large section of employees.
As drafted at the moment, the Bill has many defects. I agree wholeheartedly with some of the criticisms made by the British Employers' Confederation. Having criticised it, I now want to say that I agree with many of the points it makes, although they seem to me to be points which can be dealt with by Amendment, rather than by way of fundamental opposition to the Bill. It is claimed that one of the Bill's main purposes is to lay down a minimum period of notice. But the Bill does not do that. It lays down a minimum period of notice only for people who have been in employment with the same employer for more than two years. As several other hon. Members have already said, this means that we shall be leaving out many workers. To quote from the January edition of The Times Review of Industry: the Bill isa scrap of paper as far as the worst affected industries are concerned. In building and shipbuilding most labour is casual and the average length of employment with one firm is about six months.It is wrong that the Bill should leave out all these people. It ought to include a provision making one week the normal minimum period of notice for all employees in all industries, regardless of the length of time they have served with one employer or in one industry.
There may well have to be some exceptions, but Clause 5 already deals with exceptions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider whether the Clause as it stands should be scrapped. I think that it should be replaced by 1562 general powers given to the Minister of Labour to make exceptions by Orders, which would have to come before the House.
I say that because Acts of Parliament have a habit of remaining unamended for a long time. One of the industries which Clause 5 specifies for exemption is the dock industry. In present conditions that may be correct, but I hope that in the not too distant future we shall be able to make substantial further progress towards the decasualisation of the industry. If and when we do that we do not want to see that part of it which is decasualised excluded from the Bill under the provisions of Clause 5.
Then there is the reciprocal obligation imposed upon employees to give notice. The Bill lays down two scales of notice for long-service employees. It provides that employees should give the same notice to their employers as they are entitled to receive. As several other hon. Members have said, in its present form that provision is both unenforceable and wrong in principle. If we were to adopt the suggestion that there should be a one-week's minimum notice for all employees in all industries, it would be reasonable to say that the employee should also give one week's notice. That would be a reasonable countervailing obligation.
The longer periods of notice provided for in the Bill seem to me to be given to workers as a privilege, in return for long service. If that is so, it is absurd in the extreme to give that privilege with one hand and then to place an unfair obligation upon the individual employee with the other. I support those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have pleaded with my right hon. Friend to amend the Bill so as to take care of that point.
The Bill lays down two periods of notice to be given in return for long service. There is a period of two weeks' notice for those employees who have served between two and five years, and a period of four weeks' notice for those who have served for longer than five years. I suggest that there should be a third period of notice of eight weeks in respect of those who have had continuous employment with the same firm for more than 15 years. I have chosen an arbitrary figure, but I suggest that there 1563 should be a third period of notice to take care of really long-service employment.
In Clause 2 (4) the Bill refers to severance payments. It provides that the employer's liability to pay in respect of the length of notice shall be reduced by the extent of any agreement he may have with his employees in respect of severance pay. This also seems to be wrong in principle. I agree with other hon. Members who have said that the idea behind the Bill is that a man should be given warning before he loses his job. The practice should be encouraged that a man should continue to work during the period of that warning, unless he leaves, by agreement, to go to another job.
It would seem right, therefore, to provide a clear distinction between the payments to which an employee is entitled while he is working out his notice and any payment which he may receive under an agreement on the actual termination of his employment. These seem to be entirely separate things, and it is wrong in principle that the Bill should first confuse them and then refuse employees the full benefit by subtracting one from the other.
It is right in principle that an employee should be required to give notice of strike action. I do not say that we should expect great changes as a result of this, but we should lay down that any employee should give some notice of strike action. We cannot ignore the situations created by wildcat strikes, and whenever we are acting in this field we should keep this principle in mind.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
Will the hon. Member say whether he thinks it desirable to make this an addendum to new provisions dealing, perhaps, with continuity of employment, or would he prefer to see it done by direct legislation?
§ Mr. Carr
I had better not go into the question of direct legislation, but I do not see anything wrong about including such a provision in the Bill. What is ridiculous is to say that different workers in the same firm should give different periods of notice. That cannot work in practice, and must be changed.
1564 One factor is almost more important than the question of the number of days' notice. It seems to me that the giving of notice of a strike in no way absolves a man from honouring a negotiated agreement concerning procedures to deal with an industrial dispute. I would wish to see this subsection including an alternative condition. First and foremost, the condition of maintaining continuity of employment in this respect ought to be that a man should honour any collective bargain to which he is a party. The alternative requirement for men who may not be under any agreement which includes procedural processes for dealing with disputes should be 14 days' notice of strike regardless of the length of service.
I feel that the present provision which lays down that absence through sickness and injury exceeding six weeks should break continuity is unduly harsh. The period ought to be increased to 12 weeks.
The other point which I should like my right hon. Friend to consider is this. At the moment the Bill requires the employer to give written terms of employment to each employee after five weeks. I believe that is rather too short a term. It should either be given right at the beginning of the period of employment or much later. I heard the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) and I know what he had in mind. I have another point in mind. I have another point in mind which I consider worthy of consideration.
We all know that there is liable to be a big turnover of labour in the first few weeks of employment. That is natural because the workers do not know immediately whether they will like the job or the employer and vice versa. There is also the problem of seasonal workers as, for example, in agriculture and in other industries. When somebody joins an employer he must know at the outset the minimum about his terms of employment, and he does so already without the need for these written terms which we are considering. I think that there is value in having full written terms containing more than basic information, but I suggest that they should only have to be provided after 13 weeks, rather than five. That would help a lot of employers to reduce the work involved. What is more 1565 important, it would encourage employers to take more trouble in providing, in the written terms of agreement, the sort of information which is helpful. If the time limit is shorter there would be a tendency to do this in the simplest and meannest sort of way possible to comply with the law.
I wish to conclude by saying something about the views of those who would like to see this Measure become much bigger. I believe that to be a mistaken view. There are those who would like this Bill to be made an instrument for dealing with some of the fundamental problems of trade unions, their responsibilities and rights, strikes, and the rest of it. It is not possible to do that through this Bill. This is and should remain a Measure designed to deal with individual personal relations between employees and employers. As soon as we enter the field of major problems in industrial relations—strikes and the like—we begin to deal with the rights and liabilities of great organisations—organised employers and unions rather than individual workers and employers—and the relations of those organisations to each other and to the State. I suggest that it becomes obvious that this is not an appropriate Measure for that purpose. That does not mean to say that there are not strong arguments for looking into such problems and taking action. But not, please, by means of this Bill.
There are some hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like to see the length of notice provision extended in proportion to length of service to such an extent that it would become a full scale system of severance payments. I believe that that would make the Bill quite impracticable. It might seem to achieve what some hon. Members have said they desire; but not in the right way. I am all in favour of severance payments. I make no secret of the fact that I believe there should be legislation to deal with the matter. But here again, I do not think that it should be done by means of this Bill. If we make the length of warning of the termination of employment too long, inevitably more employers will be pressed to pay what they owe in lieu of notice.
I do not think that any payment makes up to a man or a woman for the indignity of having to go home and say that they have lost their job at a moment's notice. 1566 So I wish to keep the period of warning to a practical length and not to make it so long that more and more employees will give short notice and pay in lieu of giving longer notice. I do not believe that we ought to extend the length of notice to the point where, in practice, it would provide severance pay. In any event, I am doubtful whether severance pay could be dealt with on the basis of individual workers and employers. If we are to have a system of severance pay it will probably have to be dealt with on a national basis.
For these reasons I think that it would be wrong to try to extend the provisions of this Bill to embrace these wider matters. They are of importance, but are not fit subjects for this Bill. While this Measure may deal with a limited field, I believe it to be important. It needs amending, but I think that after it is amended the time will come when some hon. Members will regret the grudging and belittling things which they have had to say about it.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) began by criticising hon. Members on this side of the House for having belittled this Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could not have listened with attention to the speech which was made by his hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown). The hon. Member for Esher made a speech which I consider to be a most damning indictment of the Bill. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, although he is not at this moment in the Chamber. He, as are many hon. Members opposite, is held in respect by hon. Members on this side of the House as one of our most modern employers. And if this Bill is intended to legislate for the bad employers it is a miserable failure.
When I first heard about this Bill I must confess that I viewed the intention of the Government with incredulity. I did not expect such a Bill to be introduced. It is seventeen years since we heard about the Conservative Party's much vaunted Workers' Charter, and if, after a period of gestation extending over seventeen years, this is all they can produce I think that the Government should have another try. One responsible newspaper has said that this Bill is a 1567 "mouse". I do not view it in that light. One may infer from that expression that the Bill is a little, innocent Measure. But mice can be very dangerous and do a great deal of damage.
I think it fair to assume that after seventeen years of consideration of these problems a Conservative Government could have produced something upon which both employers and employees could have agreed; something constructive and forward-looking which would be a basis on which during the Committee stage discussions we might be able to produce something helpful to industry. I regret to say that what we find is to my mind—and apparently in the opinion of other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Mitcham—something which is wholly unworkable.
I have here a letter which I received this morning from the Urban District Councils Association. In order to save time I will not read it all. But the letter states:With this in mind the Executive Council is of opinion that the Bill imposes additional administrative and financial burdens on local authorities which cannot be justified by the results sought to be achieved. It is strongly urged on behalf of the Association that the employees of local authorities should be exempted from those categories to be covered by the Bill.That is a letter from a responsible association and if we do what it asks, if we erode much more the number of employees to whom the Bill will apply, we shall find that its provisions would cover very few of the insurable population.
I find it difficult not to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill and I should like to make that plain. I wish that we were going into the Division Lobbies to oppose it. It is obvious that during the Committee stage discussions there will have to be a lot of alterations made to this Bill, and I hope that finally the Minister may be able to produce something far different from the Measure as it has been drafted. Much more mercifully for the Minister, it would be better if the Government did not find time for the Committee stage.
I am very suspicious when a Conservative Government attempt to legislate on any matters relating to industrial relations. Over a period of years this country has built up powerful, effective and responsible trade unions. I belong to one—the Transport and General Workers' 1568 Union, with 1,300,000 members, covering a vast field. There are other powerful unions which are of equal standing. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) mentioned the A.E.U.
If the Minister wanted to deal with the matter effectively, he should have called for the expert opinion of the responsible officers of these unions. He should also have called for the expert opinion of some of his bon. Friends who have spoken tonight. They would have advised him to a very different effect from that seen in the Bill. Those who have advised the right hon. Gentleman have not got the faintest conception of what industrial relations mean and the effects of the Bill, if it becomes law, on workers generally. Hon. Members on both sides feel a great deal of sympathy for the Minister because—I do not say this in any patronising way—we all consider him to be quite a decent Minister and a decent chap. He is the victim of circumstances. It is rather a pity that he accepted the Measure in its present form.
The Bill is woefully inadequate. I shall not deal with all the points I had intended to deal with, because I know that many other hon. Members want to express their view. This is a thin smokescreen to cover a feeble attempt at legislation against strikes. If it is the intention of the Government to legislate against strikes, they should be frank with the House of Commons and debate the problem on the Floor of the House. We on this side, who represent employees as well as employers, have nothing to hide in relation to strikes. I was touched by the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West to strikes and victimisation in the old days. I remember when I was travelling to school in my constituency seeing the daily spectacle of three hundred policemen guarding one blackleg—this happened day after day—who was going to work when his comrades were literally starving. I am not exaggerating. This is the truth. If the Government think men like that will be irresponsible in taking strike action, the Minister, his hon. Friends and those who advise the Minister should think again. The obligation on employees to give four weeks' notice or two weeks' notice will not stop strikes.
Millions of workers will be outside the scope of the Bill, because they rarely 1569 work for employers for two years. If the Bill becomes law, this will constitute a serious discrimination against large numbers of workers. I am thinking of the building and civil engineering industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) said, in many of the great projects which are under construction at present specialists, and even manual workers, take part in three stages of the work. They are never employed by the same firm for a period of over two years. These people will be excluded from the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
As a civil engineering employer, I cannot accept this. A large number of workers in that industry remain for the whole of their lives with the same firm.
§ Mr. Probert
Because I wanted to save time I did not detail some figures I have. However, I will now give some statistics very shortly. I am advised that only 6 per cent. of those employed in the building and civil engineering industry are engaged on works lasting over two years.
§ Mr. Probert
My advice comes from very authoritative trade union sources. In ship-repair work I know of instances of workers who have worked for four separate employers in three days. This makes the whole situation ridiculous. I ask hon. Members to think of a man who works eighteen or nineteen months for one employer and then receives a week's notice or two weeks' notice. He finds work immediately and works for eighteen months for another employer. This can go on for the rest of his life. He will never come within the provisions of the Bill. This is farcical.
It is absolutely unfair to employees to impose upon them a contractual obligation to give two or more weeks' notice when they wish to leave. There is no reciprocity or equality of treatment in this. There is very widespread criticism of this provision. The employer may have for long expected that he would have to give notice to his employees, but an employee may have a chance of rapid promotion in another job if he can take the job immediately. It can affect his 1570 whole life, adversely or otherwise. He is denied that opportunity of bettering himself because of this contractual obligation. It is no good arguing that a good employer will release him. We do not want this contractual obligation.
I could have dealt with several other points, but I shall sit down now so as to give other hon. Members time. If the Minister is sincere in his endeavours to create better conditions for employees and improved relations between the two sides of industry, he must radically alter the Bill or face severe criticism. Although I think that he is the innocent victim, it is he who will be pilloried in Committee and not those who advise him.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
When I first read the Bill, I was very disappointed with the interpretation placed by the Government on their desire to fulfil the Workers' Charter. It could be that one would feel the same way after listening to the debate, but I feel much better about the Bill now that I have listened to the debate than I did before it began. It is clear that there are very strong views on both sides of the House about the nature of the changes which are called for, and these may make it an infinitely better Bill and one with which we can be much better pleased than I ever thought would be possible when we first began.
Two hon. Members opposite have sought to under-rate the Bill by suggesting that it is an election gimmick; then for the rest of their speeches they sought to tear the Bill to pieces and show what a puny little Bill it is. They had better make up their minds whether this is a world-beater which will win us the next election or whether it is so useless that it will fail in its purpose. They cannot have it both ways.
Reference has been made several times to the reciprocity of obligation upon employer and employee. I want to register my very firm conviction that it is a profound mistake to place upon the employee comparable obligations to those it is reasonable to place upon the employer. I do not say that the reasons advanced by hon. Members opposite regarding the position of a man vis-à-vis his family and that of his employer are necessarily unsound. I do say, however, that they are by no means conclusive. 1571 The conclusive argument is this. If it is right for the employer to recognise long service by giving ample notice of his intention to dispense with the man's services, then that in itself is the bargain. Long service, long notice, that is the bargain, and if it is thought to bring into the argument a quid pro quo from the man, then the value of the long service ceases to have that value. All it is doing is introducing a third side to an argument when, in fact, there are really only two sides.
I am not too happy with some of the Bill's wording in the sense that a long service man is deemed to be a man who has been for five years with the same firm. I was brought up in an industry in which five years was looked upon as little more than an apprenticeship. It is a pity to lay down five years as being the period for earning the maximum privileges.
Reference has been made to reciprocity and it being unreasonable that the longer a man works for a firm the longer he must stick to it when he wishes to move, in the process perhaps prejudicing his chances of another house, another job, and so on. Long service should not be penalised in that sense. In this connection I would like to stress what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) about there being one week's notice so that everyone in, say, a factory is on the same basis and knows where he stands.
The Minister referred to the possibility of employers being permitted—perhaps by later Amendment of the Bill—to contract out of some of these arrangements if the two sides of industry were able to agree on other arrangements. I was not quite clear whether my right hon. Friend would he prepared, in this context, to accept an agreement between two sides if that agreement represented less than what was called for in the Bill. In any case, I do not like this idea of contracting out.
§ Sir S. Summers
I hesitate to use a word which is sometimes used in another context, but I am a little suspicious of 1572 the phrase "contracting out" because I thought the Bill purported to record minimum terms which others were encouraged to improve on. It must be remembered that one contracts out of harsh things and, for this reason, the phrase "contracting out" seems rather out of place in a Bill which records minimum terms.
Reference has also been made to the mixture of ideas which seem to find expression in the Bill; important concessions for the worker and important concessions which can be forfeited if his behaviour does not conform with the obligations laid down in the Measure. This is, in a sense, an attempt to deter men from lightning strikes on the ground that they will forfeit certain rights which they have earned. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), whose speech I enjoyed almost completely, pointed out that this would not deter men from doing this because, in the heat of the moment, they would not think of these things. Perhaps so, but apart from whether or not the moment is hot, the prize is too small to weigh against the circumstances in which these decisions are taken.
My next point is linked with this, for suggestions have been made about severance pay and I must admit that I have always regretted that provisions for severance payments have not been included in the Bill. If the rewards for long service and for the assistance to deal with redundancy are to be greatly strengthened, it is right to say that lightning strikes shall be deemed to forfeit the extra benefits. Whether or not that will succeed I do not know, and I hope that hon. Members with more experience of the way men's minds work in these circumstances will let me know. It would be interesting to discover whether this would deter and if forfeiture is really realistic.
This is also wrapped up with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham about introducing this sort of concept into the Bill when we are really concerned only with improving conditions of employment. It has already been stated that if severance payments are to come in other things will automatically come in and that the two together are best out rather than in. However, this is an important matter 1573 which needs to be considered; the question of reciprocity on both sides and the amount of notice that shall be given. There are, undoubtedly, many forms of casual labour, particularly in agriculture, which would rather be excluded than be dealt with under the Bill. Those concerned will be suspicious of written terms of employment which they have never had, never asked for and consider would be better left undone. I do not think that I need elaborate that point.
On the question of the six months' average, there seems to be a notion that if a man is to be given notice, his pay while still working should relate to the six months' average of the past, by which means he gets recompensed for past services. That is a puny way of recognising past service. Instead of the six months' average he should receive his basic pay for 42 or 46 hours, as the case may be. In any case, he will not be able to check to see if the six months' average is being enforced and whether the records of his employer relate to that average because he will probably have thrown away his pay dockets and will be unable to work the average out.
This problem does not arise when we consider holidays. We do not say that holidays with pay shall be so many weeks averaged over the last six months, so why should we say, in this context, that any average of the past is called for? This is particularly questionable when we know that it is almost guaranteed that the rate for the job when carried out over four weeks will not be the correct one if it is related to the past, with bonus payments, and so on.
A great deal of clerical work will be called for for no sufficient reason and I beg the Minister to consider some other formula which will see that justice is done and that the man will more easily be able to see that justice is being done to him. A basic pay formula for a certain number of hours should be worked out, and that would solve the problem.
Another point very cogently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham related to the written particulars of the job, and whether we were wise to choose five weeks as the period after which the man shall receive his written contract of employment. From 1574 a practical point of view, I do not think that such a period is desirable. This contract could with advantage be given later on when, for instance, a man would have a much better chance to see whether what was written on the paper was reasonable. He could then consult his friends, and so on, and the acceptance of the contract at that stage would carry more conviction with him than if it were done before he walks into what might be an entirely strange shop.
When it comes to changes in the man's conditions, it is said that he will need another document, but in order to avoid too many documents going to too many people at too frequent intervals, the Bill gives permission for reference to be made to some notice posted in an appropriate place. That is all right up to a point, but I wonder whether such a statement as this given to a man will be regarded as a reasonable interpretation of the Bill.
Possible terms that might be used are: "The rates, terms and conditions of your employment will be in accordance with the current provisions of the working rule agreement applicable to the contract under which you are currently employed, etc." The man is told that he can see that agreement in some place. But if such reference to a long and complicated document, covering, perhaps, two pages, and agreed between the two sides will suffice a great deal of this need will disappear.
I hope that, as has been suggested, the Minister will take powers to vary the types of occupation to be excluded. Some might be excluded at the beginning, and brought in again later. Some types that we may wish to segregate from the application of the Bill now may not be appropriate for segregation in four or live years' time, and we should not need the whole apparatus of a new Bill to bring our ideas more up to date.
There is the question of how far we should seek to deal with strikes through legislation and, in particular, through the forfeiture of privileges such as the Bill confers. One frequently hears the phrase, "We must do something about unofficial strikes," but I do not think that it is a tenable proposition to tell a man, "If you strike without the blessing of your trade union official you will be in trouble with the law. If, however, you 1575 can get his consent to what you are doing, you will be all right."
The loose phrase "unofficial strike" is frequently used without proper thought being given to what it implies. It implies the right of the trade union official to put the man within the law, so I hope that we shall hear no more in this House, whatever may be said outside it, of an attempt to deal with an unofficial strike separately from other kinds of strikes.
Life being what it is, however, it may be possible to deal with them separately without actually saying so. That might be done by saying, "If you don't give seven days' notice of intention to break the contract you will be in trouble with the law, irrespective of on whose authority it is done." I think that the hon. Member for Southwark will agree that it is very rare for an official strike to be mobilised at less than seven days' notice. Therefore, strikes mobilised at less than seven days' notice will almost inevitably take place without the authority of the union. They should be identified by the period of notice and not by the nature of the authority on which the action was taken. I therefore hope that any attempt to deal with this matter will be related to the length of notice.
I hope that nobody will be too ambitious about this. I am sure that I do not need to remind people who are even more familiar than I am with it, that this subject is a very delicate one. Fears, and past memories—of which we have heard so much today—are aroused. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Southwark say that if the trade unions do not put their house in order he, for one, would not be surprised, and could not complain, if more drastic steps were taken.
I find the temper of the public getting much sharper on this subject. People's patience is nearly exhausted. I do not know how much longer they will wait, but many who would have been content two or three years ago to let things take their course and allow the trade unions to put their house in order, are now saying that the unions have had their chance and have not taken it, and they are now pressing for something to be done. This is not the time to talk of sanctions in reference to strikes, but I wanted to bring in that aspect of the 1576 whole subject of labour relations by saying that the sands of time are running out very fast, and that if there is not manifestly seen to be action in this sphere, the pressure for appropriate legislation will become irrestible.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
It never ceases to astonish me how reasonable and progressive individual employers are socially and away from the conference table, and yet how they can suddenly become reactionary and difficult at the place that matters when agreements are being made. The House has heard a great deal in the last six months about trade union attitudes—and a great deal of nonsense.
It must be understood that trade union attitudes are very largely reactions to the activities of managements. It is one of the facts of factory life. In the engineering industry in particular, as long as there is an insistence by management to initiate action without any discussion whatsoever, the trade union will continue to be a defence mechanism, and will be shaped to teat end.
We have heard of the power and influence of shop stewards. That power and influence extends, of course, far beyond any given factory—and often into unofficial channels—but it derives not from the inherent weakness of the trade unions but from the need for quick and effective action on the factory floor to meet the attacks of management. Let there be no mistake about it—that is why today the shop steward is powerful in the factory.
If one raises the subject of consultation with an employers' federation, the usual reply is that managements have to take immediate action and that, in any case, if they have to discuss matters with shop stewards and trade union officials they will never get the work done. They never produce evidence to show that this is so because it has never, or not often, been tried. Indeed, the engineering and allied employers' national federation and its local associations refuse, as a matter of principle, to countenance any such development and effectively put a stop to any attempt being made.
There is in the engineering industry no machinery for conciliation or discussion for the sorting out of problems which 1577 might arise. This situation is based on the agreement made after the lock-out in 1921 when the unions were defeated. Management has the right to manage its establishments, and the unions have the right to exercise their function. Translated into everyday terms, this means that management has the right to take any decision it cares to take and the unions have the right to protest. That is the situation which we still have in the engineering industry. I myself have had occasion to try to discuss with the employers a foreseeable event. I have claimed the right to discuss it, but I have been refused by the employers' association. It is about time that we got the facts right.
It is noteworthy that, in the industries where attempts have been made to have continuing discussions on all matters affecting the workpeople, there have been exemplary industrial relations. One thinks of Vauxhall and I.C.I., but I could go through a list of companies where there have never been strikes and where it seems that there never will be any because management treats the unions in a proper way, consulting them, not waiting until something happens and then trying to anticipate the reaction of shop stewards. This is the sort of thing which is wrong in industry, and this is why there are strikes.
It is wrong to imagine that the majority of unofficial strikes occur in defiance of the trade union. They are unofficial only in point of time. I will give the House an instance which occurred in 1955. I was then a union official, and I had occasion to go to Greenock to meet some of my members. I was informed that a situation existed in a shipyard there where fitters' mates were being paid more than the fitters—an impossible state of affairs. It could not happen, I thought, but happen it did. I thought that all that was required was a conference with the employers. I sought a conference, and, after three weeks, I had a conference, a yard conference, with the employers' association representative, management representatives, and the shop steward. I put the case, saying how preposterous it was that a fitter's mate should be paid more than the fitter.
I could not get settlement at that time. After another month, I went to the association again stressing the preposterous situation in the Greenock shipyard. 1578 Still I could not get a settlement. But we had a two-day strike, and we got a settlement. Will anyone tell me that we should have had the strike right away and saved all the trouble?
Another injustice was that we did not get retrospective payment. This is typical. If a quick settlement is not reached, if one goes through the procedure for a year or a year and a half, there is never a settlement going back to the date of the claim. It is a point of principle for the engineering employers not to agree to this. Is it any wonder that people go on strike sometimes? They go on strike in order to get a just grievance settled quickly.
Most strikes, of course, are not premeditated; they arise as a quick reaction to a deliberate act of management. I realise that this does not cover all strikes. There have been, and there will be, stupid strikes. There have been strikes started by people just for the sake of creating trouble. I know this; I have experienced it. But to say that all strikes are like that is to shut one's eyes to the truth and refuse to face facts.
If the Minister of Labour really wishes to make a contribution to improving industrial relations, he should seek by legislation to make it obligatory upon employers to consult the trade unions before initiating any industrial action or change in established procedures.
Now, a word about Clause 4. It never struck me that there was any great dispute about the question of notice of dismissal. Usually, the argument is about the dismissal, not about how long before the dismissal one is told about it. But, perhaps, there is a point that notice of dismissal four weeks beforehand gives time for discussion. I would rather see it provided that the trade unions should be notified in order to give opportunity to discuss the redundancy. There are many ways of dealing with these problems, and management is not always right.
In my opinion, Clause 4 will play havoc in large sections of industry. I am trying to imagine what would happen in an engineering factory if an employer had to give a written contract of employment covering all the conditions applying to engineering work. It would be a long document, quite frightening in its extent, considering that not only would the agreement book have to be included 1579 but all the interpretations which have been made of it over the years, and so forth. It would really be impossible.
Individual contracts of employment have always been regarded by trade unionists as an anti-trade union stratagem. This was the method sometimes adopted by employers in an effort to break down the influence of the trade union within an establishment. They will be treated with a great deal of suspicion. Indeed, I do not see how this can he carried out in engineering at all.
In the engineering industry, only two wage rates are negotiated nationally, the skilled rate and the labourer's rate. More than 60 per cent. of the workers are not covered by national negotiation for wage rates at all. Their rates are negotiated locally in the district or factory between shop stewards and management, and they are subject to constant change depending upon the altered circumstances of the job, and so forth. In other words, the bulk of rates in engineering are always in a state of flux. Negotiations are always going on about them. I can see a danger in trying to put it all down on a piece of paper.
What would be the situation if an individual worker made a contract with the employer which was less favourable than the wages and conditions negotiated by a shop steward within the shop for that particular job? Is there anything to prevent worker and management coming to such an agreement if there is not a national agreement on wages and conditions? I can see nothing to prevent it, but it will need a great deal of encouragement in the shop.
What should be written in the Bill is a guarantee that individual contracts in the establishment conform to the wages and conditions negotiated by the union in that establishment for all the jobs in the establishment. It may be possible in Committee to find some words which will ensure that the union agreements operating in that establishment apply to any contract which may be made and that they lay down minimum conditions. I do not know how such a contract would be upheld legally if it were taken to a court of law. I do not know how one would get over an individual making a contract contrary to the union agreement. 1580 I can see no safeguard against that, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say a few words about this later.
A condition requiring individual written contracts of employment would place an almost impossible burden on employers. I do not see how they could deal with it. The law would be recognised in the breach or workers would be handed a trade union booklet when they went into the factory. There is always this difficulty. It is not good to pass laws which will be ignored. This is what is wrong with the Bill. If employers and trade unions believed that the Bill meant anything at all there would have been an uproar. Because they believe that its provisions will not be applied in industry, they are doing very little about it.
There must be in the Bill a condition that the unions—shop stewards and union officials—have the right to negotiate an alteration in individual contracts of employment. A contract might have been made at a time when a shop was nonunion. If the workers in the shop became organised, there must then obviously be a right for the union to deal with individual contracts.
The Bill refers to an expiry date for contracts. If a contract contains an expiry date, presumably no alteration can be made before that date, or, at least, the employer could refuse to alter it before that date except by agreement with the individual with whom the contract was made. The unions must have protection in this respect. They must have the right at all times to alter individual contracts.
What is needed is legislation which will put the unions into the factory as of right. Far too much trouble arises from the struggle of the unions to establish their right to be in the factory. We have been talking about the selection of shop stewards. Because of the problems which the shop steward meets from management and sometimes from the workpeople because of the semiofficial position which he occupies, the person who is usually elected a shop steward is the person most likely to fight the management. This is the primary qualification—an ability to fight the management, as I know from experience. He has to stand up to the management. If this were not so, we might have shop stewards who were able to 1581 make agreements with management and we might have less trouble in the factory.
I should like to think that the Bill will make a contribution in industrial relations and will give some security to the worker. I am afraid that unless it is altered considerably in Committee it will never do that. That is rather a pity, since I believe, and have always believed, that the Minister, his predecessors in office, and particularly the men in the Minister's industrial relations department have over the years been trying to do a very good job, often in very difficult circumstances. It is a pity that the so-called Workers' Charter should be such a puny little Bill as this. I do not think that it will do anything at all to assist in this matter. In fact, there is little good in it, and I can see a great deal in it that is dangerous.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson) will forgive me if I do not follow his somewhat reactionary speech. It was in marked contrast to the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter).
I welcome the Bill because it is a step in the right direction, although I do not consider that it goes far enough. It raises some hopes and some fears. The first hope is for the security of the individual, which I think we all must respect. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree and acknowledge that there is at present a considerable brake, perhaps a psychological brake, on productivity. We are not agreed on all the factors which cause this feeling of insecurity, but I think that insecurity is undoubtedly a factor which contributes to the present uncertainty. Anything that we can do to reduce this feeling of insecurity is valuable.
Any man or woman earning a good wage, which most people have been doing certainly until very recent times, has the right to spend this in the way that he or she wishes and to live well. The change in their circumstances is the sharper if redundancy occurs. Regrettable though it may seem to thrifty Scots, saving is not yet practised by all families in the land, although there has been a very marked increase in the last ten years. The Bill offers something to a man and his family 1582 to fall back on, but the security which we seek to offer through the Bill is insufficient because it is too little in real terms.
I am one who advocated in the House a national redundancy policy. I think that this is overdue, and I should very much like to see such a policy introduced. But, at the same time, I have a certain understanding of the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who suggested that the Bill might not be the place for that. Certainly the scheme that I envisage is deserving of a Bill of its own.
I have great sympathy with the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), but I should like to put on record a confusion of thought. My confusion of thought arises from the fact that I, and I believe many other hon. Members, seek to give a redundant man or woman and their family a realistic sum of money which can sustain them in a situation which we all deplore. I am not happy in thinking that this can be done through an extension of the length of time of notice such as that suggested in the contract of service which we are considering today. If this is not extended, the need for a national redundancy policy is the more urgent.
I regard the provision in the Bill dealing with sickness as inadequate and harsh. When male members of the House of Commons fall sick, they are apt to rush home to be cossetted by their female relatives and they do not entirely appreciate the difficulties which a long term of sickness on the part of the breadwinner brings to a housewife or the difficulties with which she is faced. We should, therefore, try to extend in more generous terms our regard for genuine illness, concerning which the Bill is somewhat harsh.
I should like briefly to turn to the repercussions upon a family of the sudden severance of employment. After fifteen years' service, a man may be about 35 years of age. If he has four or five children, the eldest child or children will be at the very stage when financial security in the home is most essential. So often have I seen the temptation for the eldest child of the family to go out and earn money, to come back and pay the instalment on the television or on the settee, or to buy a lipstick for herself—this is quite understandable—rather 1583 than to seek, as we would wish, further education and go on to a qualification that would lead to a much higher pay packet in the years to come. We should, therefore, think of the repercussions in terms of the home and of the young people in it and realise that the Bill's provisions in hard cash go only a short way to meet the realities of that sort of situation.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister drew attention to the increased schemes for retraining. The sum of money which many of us wish to find provided in the Bill is a sum that would sustain a family which is faced with greatly reduced circumstances and which would tide them over until another job is found or until the breadwinner is retrained.
That explains why some of us seek to extend the money which should be available to a week's wages for every year of service, our belief being—to take a notional figure—that a sum of £400 would be realistic in terms of the difficulties which I have tried briefly to describe. But if we can achieve through this Bill even a small step towards greater individual security, it is certainly right that we should try to balance this as a contract between the employer and the employee, although I have much sympathy with what the right hon. Member for Southwark said on this point. The will to accept the contract exists—and here I differ absolutely from the hon. Member for Paisley—unless it is curbed for dubious reasons by unscrupulous persons.
We seek to reduce the fear of insecurity in the hope that there will be a rising sense of responsibility towards work. This must include much greater eagerness than we have yet seen for progressive change, for better workmanship and for higher productivity.
Now I turn for a moment to the two fears which have been expressed in this debate and which I have heard expressed outside the House of Commons. The first is the fear that the contracts dealt with in the Bill cannot, or will not, be enforced. There is doubt in many minds about the four-week notice. It does not seem to any of us who have any connections with industry to be realistic. A man who is declared redundant ought to be free to find himself another job if 1584 it is possible for him to do so. Those of us from Clydeside have first-hand evidence of the necessity for this.
I believe that the four-week provision would be improved if a man were to go by mutual consent when there was no further work for him to do. But he should not be penalised by losing what, for want of a better word, I may describe as the bonus to which he would be entitled by contract for his years of service. We are all too apt to forget that labour invested in a company is as essential as money which is invested in it.
The second fear arises from the question of how the cost can be met. This fear may be dismissed, because the answer is clear. The percentage of cost added by the payments required by the Bill should easily be carried by a competent firm. I for one am not prepared to seek to legislate for the incompetent. The casual worker referred to in Clause 5 raises real difficulty, but this aspect has been referred to by other hon. Members and I do not wish to occupy the time of the House with it.
I believe that the Bill will succeed if people want it to succeed. It makes a contribution towards better industrial relations. These are long overdue and we have not succeeded in getting them through free negotiation outside the House of Commons. Many people have talked recently about a national sense of purpose, but that is not something which can come through the Bill or by any other legislation of the House of Commons. It is something which people must find for themselves. A sense of purpose which is found by people of their own free will must always be based on the satisfaction of a day's work well done.
Man has survived, or has achieved survival, through a sense of responsibility to himself. He has achieved a degree of selective security through his sense of responsibility to his immediate interests. He has yet to achieve a sense of responsibility, at least in peacetime, to a national interest greater than himself. Industrial relations must be improved to this end. From the viewpoint both of the employer and of the trade unions, the Bill, limited though it is, goes some way towards this and it should, therefore, command our support.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
The hon. Lady the member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Henderson), in her general sentiments about productivity, was quite unexceptionable. However, much of her argument was characteristic of the Tory Party and of her as a member of it.
Whether a Bill comes as a Private Member's Bill from this side of the House or as a Bill of this kind from the other side of the House, it never is the time to do anything in it by way of radical reform. I remember nearly 27 years ago introducing a Private Member's Bill for two weeks' holiday with pay; and the only arguments adduced from the other side of the House against it were that it was the wrong time to do it and that it should be done in a rather different legislative context. It has been the same story year after year, speech after speech, no matter whether it was a Private Member's Bill from the Opposition side of the House or a Government Bill. Never is it the time to do anything really radical. It has been interesting to see how the few hon. Members opposite who have spoken wholeheartedly—more or less wholeheartedly—in favour of the Bill, or have come down broadly in favour of it, emphasised and approved certain reactionary aspects which I shall deal with later.
There is, perhaps, one good thing about the Bill. Three sections of the community may well look forward to it with anticipation, licking of lips and patting of pockets—the paper interests, the printers, and the lawyers. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson) forecast masses of paper and voluminous documents for the engineering industry alone which will be required to carry out the provisions of the Bill in relation to the written terms of service and conditions for termination.
If the Bill goes through as it is now drafted, there is no doubt that it will give rise to masses of litigation. I visualise the trade unions being involved in very great expense. Far from the Bill reducing tension and ill will in industry, we shall have tension and ill will arising even out of the litigation alone; and this will be just about inevitable if the Bill goes through in the present form.
1586 However, assuming that the Bill was intended to have, and has, certain advantages, why have so many people been left out of the advantages that it may have? For example, everybody failing to achieve continuity of employment for two years with one firm or employer is left out. Automatically millions of people are, therefore, left out. The Parliamentary Secretary seems unhappy about that suggestion.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William Whitelaw)
§ Mr. MacMillan
It is true.
Again, the Bill does not apply to people working fewer than 21 hours per week. But a very large number of people do not work less than 21 hours a week. The Minister's explanation in this respect was that 21 hours was broadly half a working week. But what about the people even in various public services, such as the catering services attached to the department of education—the school meals service, the school canteen service, and so on, to take only one class of employees? As far as I know, none of those work for anything like 21 hours a week. Many other classes of the community are in the same difficulty.
The hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East rightly referred to the very harsh condition about the six weeks' sickness credit or concession. That is something which can be looked at in Committee and I will not labour it now. But that is another feature of the Bill of which the Minister is well aware, and he need not have left it to the Committee stage to be dealt with.
Again, hon. Member after hon. Member on this side of the House has referred to the harshness of the situation which will be created when more restrictions, new conditions and harsher conditions are imposed upon workers the longer they go on working for any one employer. The employer with two years and upwards of service will have to give two weeks' notice. But the worker with five years' service will have to give four weeks' notice of termination. That is not much of a reward to a worker for loyalty to an employer, or for long service. It is not much reward for the worker to have imposed on him twice the requirement of notice of termination of service 1587 required of a person who may hop from one job to another, or have a much shorter period of service with one employer.
The Minister has lost a very great opportunity to do something really worth while in the interests of the working population generally. Here I refer particularly to severance pay. Millions of workers and others had the impression that the Government were going to do something about severance pay. The propaganda which has emanated no doubt from the Tory head office, rather than from the Government, about this miserable little Bill has rather misled the public into thinking that this was somehow or other to be the equivalent of severance pay. Many people are certainly confused about it. They believed that it meant acceptance by the Government of the principle of severance pay.
There is one aspect of the problem which I am sorry the Government have not tackled. Let me change now to something which is not in the Bill. I refer to the problem of people who are on the borderline of contract of service or just beyond it, those who are not quite sure whether they are on contract of service or on contract for services. The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate the point. This affects many tens of thousands of people. I will not put it any higher than that and will not talk in terms of millions; but we legislate for very much smaller numbers than that.
For example, in me textile industry the problem arises. In millinery, in leatherworking, in the toymaking industry and throughout a large section of the entertainment world it arises also. And that is quite a miscellany for a start. I am surprised that the Minister has not taken more notice of the representations that some of us have made through the years about this problem of the worker who is under not contract of service but contract for services. The technicality is sometimes little more than that; but it means loss of many valuable benefits.
As to economic status, these people under contract for services are in exactly the same position quite obviously as others working alongside them in other sections of the same industry. To give an example as a constituency point, in the production of Harris tweed—I shall 1588 not do any advertising, but the Parliamentary Secretary knows as well as I do that this industry has a world-wide reputation and the product is one of which Scotland has reason to be proud because it is a good dollar earner, quite apart from its tourist attraction—there have been examples of people who work in the mills producing the yarn for a week, month or year and then go as weavers in another section of the industry the following week, month, or year. While working in the mills, they are fully covered by contract of service, come under class I insurance and are employed persons; and when they become unemployed they, therefore, get unemployment insurance benefit; and they are also covered for industrial injuries.
If they switch to another section of the industry because of a requirement that they should do the weaving process in the production of the textiles away from the factory, they are automatically put outside Class I insurance and are automatically regarded as self-employed, and they pay a higher weekly contribution but get no unemployment insurance benefit and are not covered for industrial injuries. They are now under "contract for services". This applies to many others than those in my constituency of whom I have been speaking, and of whom, even there, there are some thousands. One will find members of the Transport and General Workers' Union in the tweed industry working alongside other persons in a different process on the same product. One set of persons will be regarded as self-employed and the others will be regarded as employed persons; one set will be debarred from all our social benefits, while the others will be enjoying them to the full.
There is something rather silly about all that. The mere fact that a man does not have a factory roof over his head, is not supervised in the usual way and is not paid by the hour, but is instead paid over days and weeks—though he is virtually still under the discipline of an employer—debars him from practically all the benefits—the main benefits anyhow—for workers under our social service system.
At times when I have made speeches on this subject in the House, many people have written to me. But the 1589 letters have not always come from Harris tweed weavers. They have come often from people belonging to the Music Hall Artistes Association or such organisations. These people are in exactly the same position, one of the reasons being that they are not attached to a single employer but must accept contracts for service from different employers, possibly half a dozen in a year, and are not supervised by the hour.
This is an opportunity for the Government to do something about those people who are left in the cold. They have to pay the heaviest weekly contributions, and yet they are debarred from the main and most urgent benefits in difficult times. This applies not only to the Harris tweed weavers in the Isles and to music hall artistes all over the country; but also to people in the millinery and leatherwork trade to whom materials are given out for finishing. It applies also to toy making. I do not know how far the Minister has addressed himself to these problems with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. This is not purely a constituency point, although I have given a constituency illustration. The plight of all these people is serious.
Another way in which the Government could be more helpful to people in a difficult position as regards classification for insurance purposes and for the purpose of qualifying fully for contracts of service, concerns road workers employed by county councils, for example. I know case after case among these men in which a worker under, say, the Inverness County Council is told that there is no more work for him late in the year. What happens to him?
He goes to the Ministry of Labour and is told that he cannot receive benefit because he is a seasonal worker. Why is he classified as a seasonal worker? Because his general pattern of employment year after year is that he works during certain months, for a number of reasons—possibly for the convenience of the council or because the cash runs out, as it has done in some years. There is the weather factor. The man is in an unfair situation.
We have had the rulings of commissioners on this, but there is no definite 1590 provision by which these men could enter into a contract which would qualify them for whatever benefits there might be in the Bill. If these public employees—for that is what they are—were to be given work during part of the summer, part of the autumn and part of the winter, they would at first sight appear to be covered. But if even that wider pattern repeated itself for five or six years they would automatically again be classified as seasonal workers because it is the average employment times over the years which count. One has apparently to break a pattern and employ them at several different times in several different years in order to qualify them for insurance benefit and in order to bring them into any continuity of service. Yet they have to be available all year round.
The Government could bring into the Bill a great number of people who now are without the safeguard and the benefit of continuous employment and qualification for what benefits there are in the Bill—benefits which we hope will be extended in Committee—by persuading and assisting county councils undertaking public works to establish continuity—on the right terms—for the road construction and other contractors and so for the workers. In this way, they could bring tens of thousands of workers all over the country within the qualifications for unemployment benefit and give them the opportunity to work under terms which would allow them to benefit from the contract of service terms of the Bill.
At the moment such people in the Western Isles are in an impossible situation. The area has over 31 per cent. unemployed. I have heard hon. Members waxing furious and eloquent about 4 per cent., 9 per cent., or, as an extreme, 10 per cent. unemployment in their areas. But year after year, for several months of the year, we have had up to 31 per cent. unemployment. This is in an area of both crofting agriculture and light industry. Small-scale farming runs alongside textile production and other industrial jobs.
If the Minister is incapable of imagining the hardships of so many people unemployed in an area in which so many of them are also debarred, in the event of unemployment, from enjoying insurance benefits or the advantages of the protection of the Industrial Injuries Scheme, then he has little imagination indeed.
1591 The real figure is not merely 31 per cent. All those who are but should not be classified as self-employed very often have to be added to the number of unemployed to get at the real figure. Who knows what the real figure is? In pre-war days, I saw it rise to 75 per cent. Something good had happened in the last year prewar when it stood at only 60 per cent. But today at 31 per cent. it should still stir the consciences of the Government and of this House.
The Government can do a certain amount to alleviate it by bringing these people into the full Class I Insurance and within the possibility of being covered by such minor benefits as this Bill brings by making sure that changes are made in the National Insurance provisions and doing whatever they can to ensure continuity of employment in public works of every kind.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) had a little fun at our expense about the Industrial Charter and the fact that it has taken so long for it to be brought about. But I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) dealt with that very effectively by pointing out that time and again we have given both sides of industry the chance to put this matter right by reaching voluntary agreements.
I was staggered to find that only about 16 per cent. of people in manufacturing industries are covered by some sort of redundancy scheme. I think that this figure is sufficient answer to those who say that we should allow a little more time for agreement to be reached. The major noise made against the Bill is that we are attacking one of the sacred cows; but it is surely accepted that this matter is one in which both sides of industry can look after their own affairs. They have been given a long time to do it and it is right and proper that this Bill should now be brought in at least to provide a higher floor than before and upon which, one hopes, voluntary arrangements will be built. This is a good move forward and one which we all ought to support.
I believe that it will help industrial relations in two ways. Many hon. Members have been a little half-hearted about this Measure. They have said that the Bill is so small that it will not make 1592 any difference. I do not agree. I believe that it will help in two ways. First, for the first time in their lives many men will receive in writing the terms and conditions of their employment, and will for the first time be able to read what are their rights, and, far more important, their obligations.
Secondly, there is this great problem that whenever industrial strife occurs, one of the greatest contributing factors is fear. This is extremely important, and any action we can take to reduce fear will correspondingly reduce one of the factors behind industrial disputes. As the fear of the unknown is the most potent fear of all, if a man knows his conditions of work, his fear will naturally be reduced, and he will feel much safer in his job. I do not think that anyone can expect a man to think logically or act logically when he is frightened. Immediately fear enters the mind and heart of a man he ceases to act logically and to think logically, and I believe that this Measure will go some way towards reducing this contributing factor behind many of the disputes about which we hear every day.
One of the greatest problems today, which is brought about by the need for larger and larger manufacturing units, is the tendency for managements to become more and more remote from the men on the shop floor. Many of the difficulties which arise in large firms cannot arise in small ones, because in these small firms everyone knows the man who makes the decisions and realises that he is a human being subject to all the normal failures. But in a large organisation, the man who makes the decision becomes so remote that to him the men on the shop floor are mere ciphers. It is important that the communication systems, particularly in the larger firms, are improved regularly. In many industries particular care is taken to see that the communication system is working properly, and to make certain that not only is there a good chain of command, but a good avenue of information to everyone in the firm. Where particular regard is paid to communications, the possibility of industrial difficulties arising is considerably lessened.
In many cases the building of large industries leads to a distortion in the balance of loyalties. Almost every man 1593 in industry belongs to a trade union. He therefore has a loyalty to his employer, and he naturally has a loyalty to his trade union. Where a balance is achieved between the two, nothing but good ensues, but if it comes to the point when a man feels that the company regards him as a mere cipher, merely as a number on the payroll, then naturally his whole loyalty goes to the trade union which he supports, and he takes the line, "My union right or wrong."
In a perfect world no problem would arise, but we know that this is not a perfect world and difficulties do arise. In a perfect world the trade union executive would base its day-to-day activities on the policy which had been democratically arrived at a delegate conference, and one would naturally expect the actions of the national executive to be in line with the views of the general membership of the union. But as this is an imperfect world, we see more and more unofficial stoppages which in many cases the union executive deplores and says should not take place.
These stoppages are obviously contrary to the policy of the union executive, and in turn contrary to the expressed opinions of the majority of the union members. Therefore, any action which will bring back this balance of loyalties will stop ordinary members of trade unions from acting blindly, so that they will not follow my leader but will instead seriously consider what justification there is for any action that is suggested.
Secondly, under the terms of the Bill every employee will have to face a choice at any time that unofficial action is contemplated. At present he does not have to make a choice, because he is faced with the fact that, even if it is an unofficial strike, by refusing to take action he will be called a blackleg and may very well be disciplined by his local branch. He will then have to rely upon the good nature of his executive to reverse that decision, even supposing that the executive has made a decision other than that taken locally.
Under those circumstances the ordinary worker will naturally say "Even if I disagree with the decision taken locally, I must support the strike." But in future he will have to make a choice. On the one hand, he may find himself disciplined by his union for 1594 not supporting the strike but, on the other, if he does support it he may lose the benefits involved in his contract of service. I hope that this will cause every employee to seek to ensure that, in future, in his own union at any rate his executive is the body which makes the decisions, so that the action he takes will be constitutional, having been decided according to democratic process at the annual conference.
Those are the two main points that strike me right away. As many other hon. Members have pointed out, a number of changes will have to be made in Committee. Nevertheless, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward the Bill, and I commend it to the House.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I have heard most of the speeches which have been delivered in the debate, and I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a word or two in its concluding stages. Naturally, at this late hour I cannot deliver the considered statement on the Bill which I had gone to the trouble of preparing.
From time to time I have been impressed by what I have heard from hon. Members opposite, but I thought that the Minister was not his usual generous self. In what he said earlier he seemed to substantiate many of the fears which exist outside, in those organisations with which I am particularly concerned. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) said that there were two fears in the minds of employees today, and he felt that the Bill would go some way to allay them. But his hon. Friend, the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) said that the provisions in the Bill, measured in terms of hard cash, would go only a short way towards remedying the difficulties and allaying the fears to which the hon. Member for Totnes referred.
I thought of Glasgow where the figure of unemployment is higher than it has ever been since way back in the 1940s. But something else is now happening in Glasgow. In the next few days the Remington Rand Company will dismiss 1,100 workers who will join the great band of unemployed already on the streets. These people who are now earning good wages will suddenly find themselves in 1595 receipt of unemployment pay and in many cases this will represent a 50 per cent. cut. The problem of under-employment extends beyond the City of Glasgow. The furniture trade operatives on the estate where the Remington Rand Company operates are working a four-day fortnight. Operatives in the woollen trade are in the same predicament, and the boot and shoe operatives are on a three-day week.
There is therefore this secondary problem of under-employment. The hon. Member for Renfrew, East was honest enough to say that this Bill, which should have been designed to deal with such problems, does not do so. I cannot therefore welcome the Measure as have many hon. Members opposite.
Organisations with which I am associated, my constituency Labour Party and the engineers and shipbuilders in my constituency, as well as other trade unionists, are strongly opposed to it. I am also actively associated with the Co-operative movement which, having considered it carefully, is critical of the purpose of this Bill. I am associated with the trade union movement, and I am the Parliamentary chairman of A.S.S.E.T., which has advocated, through my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), a real solution, severance pay, on the basis of one week's pay for every full year of service. My hon. Friend hoped, as I do, that during the Committee stage discussions we shall be able to discuss the solution offered by my trade union for this problem of redundancy, which is supported by most of the other unions. The Minister made great play with the idea of reciprocity on which the Bill is based. He was very seriously criticised by some of his back benchers, because they admit that the basis of establishing reciprocity is non-existent. Thus there can be no chance of reciprocity in employer and employee relations.
The Minister said that if an employee was held guilty of misconduct and dismissed for it he was outwith the operations of the Bill. Misconduct covers a multitude of sins, but when the Minister said that I wondered where the reciprocity was. If an employee can be dismissed for misconduct, how is reciprocity applied to the employer, or are we to assume that no employer is ever guilty of misconduct? An employee can be chucked 1596 out at a moment's notice. Where does reciprocity come in? It is non-existent. Yet it is one of the props of the Bill.
I thought that the casual worker was very unfortunately treated by the Minister and by the Government side as a whole. There are casual workers who are casual workers all their lives. They are permanently casual workers, casually permanent if you like, and they are outwith the operations of the Bill. As a small boy in an Ayrshire town I can recollect seeing the women who went to the net works to get the raw material of their day's work or week's work returning through the streets with it to make the nets in their homes. They were casual workers, yet to supplement the household wage they did that job all the years they were able to do it. The right hon. Gentleman would call them casual workers.
I have said that the organisations with which I am actively associated oppose the Bill. Basically they are against it because they regard it as a piece of anti-strike legislation brought in by a backdoor method.
§ Mr. Rankin
I have only a minute or two left. I always like to see a Minister shaking his head, because it invites me to continue. However, the Minister has shaken his head at a time when I am under sentence to finish. I repeat that the men and women I know well in the organisations I have mentioned believe that this is anti-strike legislation by a back-door method. The strike legislation is dealt with in paragraphs 6 to 9 of Schedule 1. On reading that one gets into the most chaotic confusion imaginable. I should have loved to take the right hon. Gentleman through it and to see what he would have made of the tangle, but I must delay that until the Committee stage; and give way now to my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice).
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) will pursue this matter in Committee, when I can assure him that many of us will be with him in pursuing it. We have had a wide-ranging debate in which a variety 1597 of experiences from many different industries have been expressed from hon. Members representing both sides of industry. I should like, at the outset, to refer to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) and say how much we enjoyed it. It was a relevant speech and he showed a detailed knowledge of the pattern of work in his constituency. That was both useful and interesting, and I am sure that all hon. Members look forward to hearing him often.
The Government have had a rather rough time over the Bill, because nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has either been opposing the Bill outright or has been saying briefly that he supports it but has devoted the remainder of his remarks to searching criticisms of the Measure. Although it would be unkind to remind the Minister of the response the Bill has received outside the House, I must mention that its response outside has been probably worse than the response it has received in the House today.
The Press response to it has been either lukewarm or hostile. Even those newspapers which are normally friendly to the Government and have referred to it as a Workers' Charter have generally put the phrase in quotation marks. A typical description of it appeared in The Economist on 15th December with the headline "Mr. Hare's mouse." That has been the sort of response the Bill has received in the Press. A very hostile response has come from the British Employers' Confederation, and the trade union response has been either outright opposition or a detailed and searching criticism.
There is no law which says that a Minister of the Crown must try to be popular. Some Ministers have got themselves into trouble in the past by trying to be too popular; being afraid to take unpopular decisions. There is no law which says that a Minister of Labour must always produce Measures agreeable to both sides of industry. Indeed, we have often urged the present Minister and his predecessors to come out in advance of industrial opinion in matters of industrial training, and so on. But it is extraordinary, considering that the Bill is ostensibly concerned with industrial relations, that the Government have not been 1598 more careful to consult in detail, over a good period of time, those people who have day-to-day experience of industrial relations on both sides of industry.
The one big thing which has concerned the spokesmen of industry has been the lack of consultation on the Bill. A number of criticisms contained in Press statements and letters we have received from people on both sides of industry are the kind of criticisms and observations they expected to make through the ordinary channels of consultation. It is remarkable that such consultation does not seem to have taken place.
The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) and the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) both said that the Industrial Charter had been produced a long time ago and that the Government had from time to time reminded industry about it. But that is not enough. The precise proposals in the Bill should have been carefully discussed with industry and full consultation should have taken place. And if the Minister wants to defy both sides of industry—as must a Minister, whatever the party, on occasions—he should do so in a cause which is worth while and not in respect of a Bill as trivial and unenterprising as the one before us.
As far as it goes, the Bill can be described as a mixture of good and bad, and most of us on this side would say that the bad things in it outweigh the good. We therefore feel that we have shown a certain amount of restraint in deciding not to divide the House tonight but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) said earlier, we are reserving our position in regard to the Third Reading because we believe that a Bill so muddled and ill-conceived can hardly go through the Committee stage without some pretty substantial changes. We are encouraged in that view by some of the speeches from hon. Members opposite who have agreed with us on many of the changes we want to see. If they will persist in that opinion we shall see some changes and, on balance, the Bill may turn out to be a good thing, if only in a very modest way.
Turning, first, to the good parts, there is much to be said for long-service 1599 employees having longer notice. I cannot help thinking that the Minister overstated the effect of this, because what will happen in practice in a large number of cases is that when redundancy is foreseen, and foreseen some time ahead, the only extra requirement on employers is that they will have to give formal notice three weeks earlier than would otherwise be the case, and the practical benefits for the employees will be nil. But in some situations there will be a long-term benefit to the employee, and we do not under-rate that.
This provision is, of course, no substitute for severance pay, and if Clause 1, with its reciprocal obligations on the employee, remains, I think that in the majority of cases the harm it will do will outweigh the good. However, taken in isolation, the fact that employers will have to give employees longer notice is something we welcome.
We welcome, too, what is said about the statement of terms of employment. It is a modest item, and in many cases will not add much practically, as most employees already know where they stand in that respect; but here and there there are misunderstandings, or even deliberate cheating, and here and there are opportunities for a bad employer to exploit the employee. I think of something like the holiday pay to which an employee is entitled when he is leaving a firm without having taken his holiday. A clear statement on his entitlement is very desirable. But that is a very modest part of the Bill.
I want to devote what time remains to me to our criticisms of the Bill, the dangers which we see in it, and the Amendments which we shall seek to make to it. I draw attention, first of all, to something that has not been touched on much in this debate, and that is the possible danger—indeed, I would say the probable danger—and one foreseen by the T.U.C. and others, that the Bill as drafted may lead to more people being given summary dismissal. That is a problem in industry that we should all face up to.
A recent report of the T.U.C. says:The total number of dismissals for reasons other than redundancy is not known but in 1960, for example, at least 140,000 workers were dismissed for alleged industrial misconduct. The abrupt loss of a job brings 1600 financial hardship and worry to the individual, and causes disquiet in the workplace. It is also a source of industrial friction: 20 per cent, of the stoppages reported to us two years ago in our inquiry into disputes were acceded by dismissals of individuals.The form in which the Bill is drafted will offer a temptation for a minority of bad employers—and I stress that it is a minority of bad employers—to dodge their obligations by dismissing people before the two years or the five years is up on some trumped up charge or other, or, indeed, to use the provisions of Clause 2 (3) about "reasonable work" as an excuse to get rid of people in order to avoid their obligations. That danger is there, and it is something at which we shall have to look very closely.
I need not remind the House that a man who loses his job in those circumstances is also likely to be disqualified from unemployment benefit under the National Insurance Act, with its reference to industrial misconduct. The ideal answer, of course, is the spread within industry of appeals machinery by which summary dismissals of this kind can be examined and, if necessary, taken to independent arbitration.
One idea I throw out now is that the Government should consider the establish-merit of some kind of statutory tribunal, perhaps on the lines of the appeals tribunal under our National Insurance legislation, which could deal with this sort of dismissal in cases where there is no adequate voluntary machinery within the industry concerned. The Bill as drafted could aggravate a problem which already exists in industry and about which not nearly enough is being done.
I come now to something which many hon. Members have discussed, the fact that the Bill does nothing for those who are not with an employer for at least two years. It is extraordinary that, when we are dealing with a proposal ostensibly intended to give extra security to workers in their employment, it contains nothing for those who are most insecure at the present time. A formula should be found. I very much welcome the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Mitcham that, as I understood it, we should consider in Committee an arrangement whereby everyone employed should be entitled to at least seven days' notice unless by regulation certain types of employment were excluded. That is an idea which should commend itself to the 1601 Committee's consideration. We should go into it and, in any event, find some formula to do something for the many millions of workers who will be outside the Bill as at present drafted.
There are very difficult problems here. Some workers change their employer within a matter of weeks or even days. I understand that in my own union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, there are men in ship repairing in the Port of London who sometimes have as many as four employers in a period of three weeks. The chance of doing something through legislation in that sort of case is not very great, but we ought not to be content with a period of two years. I understand that in the building and civil engineering industry there are people who tend to work for an employer for some months. I gather that a great many projects in the industry have a total construction period of about two years. Within the two years, only a minority of workpeople are there ail the time. There are certain phases of work, each lasting for some months, and there is a considerable change-over in the labour force at the end of each phase.
I suggest that we should think at least in terms of employees like that, who may work for six or eight months for an employer, and ensure that, at the end of that period, they are entitled to at least a week's notice, if not more. Something along those lines ought to be written into the Bill.
There are at least two things in the Bill which ought to come out altogether. On this side of the House, we take a very clear view about both. The first is the reciprocal duty of the employee to give notice. We are very glad to have had during the debate almost unanimous support on this matter from the other side of the House. The Minister spoke about there being two parties to the contract, suggesting that it was reasonable that each party should have a similar obligation. Of course, as many hon. Members have pointed out, there is no real equality in this.
If the worker leaves his employer, this is an inconvenience, possibly a serious inconvenience, particularly to a small employer, but nothing like, in its impact, the consequence for the man himself if he loses his job, particularly if he 1602 loses it in conditions of heavy local unemployment such as are to be found in many areas today.
What is more, the Bill as drafted puts an extra penalty on the long-service employee. If the requirement of notice is enforced, it will be more difficult for him to find a new job than it will be for the man who has been with the employer for a shorter period. Let us not forget that it is finding a new job which matters to a man more than anything else. Nothing in the Bill, nothing about longer notice—not even severance payments—will be nearly as important as the prospect of actually finding a new job. If we do something which will make it more difficult to find new jobs, we do far more harm than any good the Bill might do in other directions.
In fact, if the Bill goes through as it is now drafted, we are in danger of creating two classes of workpeople, those who happen to be short-service employees, moving quickly from one job to another, and those who, on the average, might be thought steadier people who try to stick to one job for a longer time but who, as a result, are penalised if redundancy comes their way.
What is more, the Clause as drafted could lead to all kinds of unfairness. One employer might enforce the period of notice and another employer might not. One worker might feel that he had a sense of obligation to his employer to work out his notice and another might walk out feeling that he did not have that obligation. When a worker walks out without giving notice, one employer may try to enforce his rights through the courts and another may not. All kinds of discrepancies, grievances and possibly industrial disputes might result from the operation of the Clause as it is drafted.
I understand that in Sweden and West Germany there is a law on the statute book which imposes on the employer the obligation to give longer notice than the employee. I should have thought that there was no reason in principle why it should not be done here, and I hope that the Bill will be amended accordingly.
The other thing to which we take very great exception is the First Schedule as far as it relates to strikes. This is a, curious way of legislating about strikes. It is clear that there is a number of hon. 1603 Members opposite who feel that there should be legislation about strikes. We think that they are wrong. We think that this is the wrong way to approach the matter. But, if we are to have legislation about strikes, then let us have comprehensive legislation in some detail. We do not want something slipped in in this fashion in a Schedule in a Bill which is supposed to deal with other objects. This is a very big issue which, if covered at at all, should be covered in a separate Bill.
One of the things which I welcomed in the British Employers' Confederation's statement was the way in which it came out against this matter. It did so for the simple reason that this was an impracticable way of going about it, and, of course, it is. If this Schedule is intended to be a weapon against unofficial strikes, the first thing to be said against it is that it will not prevent a single strike. Why should it? The one thing about which we need to remind ourselves is that when men come out on strike the first result is that they lose their pay. They feel strongly enough about an issue, rightly or wrongly, to walk out from the job and therefore to give up their pay. Incidentally, if it is the sort of strike which is dealt with in this Schedule, often they will not get strike pay and they will also be disqualified from unemployment benefit.
Is it really suggested that if men are in the mood to do that they will hesitate and say, "We might lose our rights under Section 1 of the Contracts of Employment Act, 1963"? Is it suggested that that will deter them from striking if they are prepared to sacrifice their pay and strike pay by a sudden walk out? Of course it will not.
As I say, this Schedule will not prevent a single strike. In fact, it might prolong strikes which have already occurred, because if people are on strike part of the argument about a resumption of work might be on the point as to whether the employer is prepared to waive the rights conferred by the Schedule and restore the long-service status of the workers concerned. It may well be a source of argument which will prolong a strike, but certainly it will not be effective in preventing a strike.
1604 My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark said something which I think impressed the whole House, and with which, of course, I agree, about the need to prevent strikes and about our condemnation of the minority of troublemakers who try to stir up strikes for purposes which have nothing to do with the interests of the workpeople or with the interests of this country. Of course, we accept that. But I wish to add that I think that there are some hon. Members opposite and some propagandists of the Tory Party and some Conservative newspapers who are building up strikes into a much bigger issue than they are for political purposes. They are doing it because they think that it discredits the trade union movement and that through the trade union movement they will discredit us. This is positively unhealthy and is a disservice to good industrial relations.
§ Sir S. Summers
I do not wish to undermine the sincerity of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, but will he accept it from me that the public would take much more notice of the kind of comments which he and his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark have made if those who disobeyed and broke contracts were disciplined by the unions?
§ Mr. Prentice
In many cases they are. The hon. Gentleman, with his great experience in industry, will recognise that there are many different sets of circumstances in strikes, and sometimes it is right that people should be disciplined and sometimes it is not. The situation leading to strikes can vary considerably.
Part of the mythology which is promoted by some hon. Members opposite is that every employer and every manager is a knight in shining armour, always wise, benevolent and patient and doing the right thing, that every shop steward is evil and probably a Communist to boot, and that every worker is an absolute sheep. That is not true. The circumstances that lead to strikes vary greatly.
One thing that is wrong with the Schedule is that it attempts to prejudge every unofficial strike situation and to say that always, in 100 per cent. of cases, 1605 no matter what the surrounding situation, people are to be deprived of the rights under the law because they have gone on strike without notice.
I put this situation to hon. Members. Suppose that on a building site, the foreman or whoever is in charge tries to insist upon men working in conditions that they know to be unsafe because he is careless of their safety or, perhaps, is up against a time limit and wants to get on with the job. If he gives them the order to do that, what should they do? Perhaps they inform their union and complain to the factory inspector, but in the meantime should they work in conditions which they know to be unsafe, or should they strike without notice? There can be circumstances like that in which the only sensible course is to strike without notice.
There are many cases of that kind. To generalise about all strikes and to say that they are always wrong in all circumstances is absurd. We want to prevent and to reduce strikes, but we are also entitled to remind hon. Members opposite that on the whole, British industry has a good record in this respect that compares well with nearly every other industrial country. Outside the Communist countries, Sweden and West Germany are the only industrialised nations which have a smaller incidence of strikes in recent years than we have. Nearly every other industrial country has considerably more.
In most years since the war, the average time lost in strikes, official and unofficial, plus the time lost as a consequence by people in plants which play no part in the strike, has been about 3 million working days a year. With approximately 24 million people at work, that is about one-eighth of a working day per year, or one hour per worker per year. We lose six hundred times as much working time from sickness and injury as from strikes.
I am not being complacent in saying that. In some circumstances, strikes can be damaging and ought to be avoided. Sometimes there are mistakes on the union side and irresponsible shop stewards, of course. To generalise in that way, however, is wrong and particularly to do so for party political purposes. That is something on which some Conservatives at least have been 1606 playing heavily in recent months, particularly as their political support in the country has been lessening and they have been getting more desperate and more and more inclined to play this up.
§ Mr. R. Carr
Would not the hon. Member agree that one of the disturbing features is that there seems to be a tendency for our strike record to get worse, certainly not better, and that the serious aspect is the element of unofficial, wildcat strikes?
§ Mr. Prentice
No. The loss of working hours through strikes in 1962 was almost double what it was in 1961, for the reason that there were two one-day official strikes in the engineering industry in February and March. The fact that the whole industry was out for two one-day periods was itself sufficient to double the figures last year. They were official strikes of which notice was given and were the direct result of the incomes policy of the Government. Excluding those two instances, the remainder of the strike record last year was less than in 1961.
As for the number of unofficial strikes, the fact that a fairly large proportion of strikes is unofficial is in itself a compliment to the trade union movement in trying to avoid official strikes. In other countries where there are more strikes a bigger proportion of them are official. Because great efforts are made by trade unions in this country to avoid strikes, of the few that we have a higher proportion are unofficial.
The only other matter to which I wish to refer is the all-important question of severance pay. I support very much what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) and what has been said by other hon. Members on both sides of the House about the problem. The Minister has often expressed his good intentions. He produces pamphlets, lectures the N.J.A.C. on the subject and admonishes industry because only a minority of workers are in any kind of severance pay scheme.
We want specifically to challenge the Minister in relation to the Bill. The Bill could be amended in Committee to provide for severance payments. The Long Title says:to provide for matters connected with the giving of notice".1607 Will the Minister accept Amendments along the lines of the provisions of my hon. Friend's Bill if they are moved in Committee? Will he take the opportunity to do something worth while? If not, I will make a more modest suggestion. If he thinks for some reason that there should not be an overall compulsion on employers to make severance payments, will he make a declaration—will the Parliamentary Secretary make it now—that the Government will give a lead in relation to all public employees in national and local government and to employees whose terms of employment are covered by wages councils?
Suppose in Committee we move an Amendment to amend the Wages Councils Act and the Agricultural Wages Acts to give the statutory bodies power to bring in redundancy payments, will the Government accept it? This is in some ways a test of their good intentions. The Bill was introduced by the Minister today with a great deal of brave talk about a period of industrial change and the need to protect the worker and give him extra security—with which we all agreed—but all that he has put into the Bill is trivial compared with the things to which he referred. The Minister can, however, still accept during the Committee stage Amendments which we are prepared to move to turn the Bill into something which will really have an impact on the working lives of the people concerned.
It is a commonplace these days to talk about the rapid pace of change in industry. What is not sufficiently recognised, I think, is that the pace of change in industry is still increasing and will continue to increase in the coming years. The impact of science and technology and the impact of changes in the pattern of world trade upon our pattern of industry and our pattern of work will mean that more and more people will lose jobs on which they have come to rely. More and more people who acquired a skill when they left school and made years of sacrifice to acquire it and built up a standard of living based on that skill in the service of an employer will find in middle life that change has overtaken them and that the security on which they depended is not there.
1608 It is not good enough that people in that position should have just seven days' notice and the rather meagre rates of unemployment benefit that we still pay. We need a number of radical changes to meet the situation. We need a genuine policy of full employment, policies of retraining, policies of rehousing people and a policy of proper severance pay based on the length of service that a man has had with a particular employer.
It is ironic that about 16 years after the publication of the so-called Workers' Charter and with the Government now coming towards the end of their life and facing defeat very soon in a General Election, they have at last produced a Bill which gives some dim recognition of the vast social problems that we have been talking about from this side of the House for years. It is characteristic of the Government that in producing this Bill they have produced something which is such a feeble and inadequate response to the challenge of the times.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I agree with one thing which the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) said—we have had an interesting and valuable debate. I want to call attention to two speeches, the first being the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones). I am sure that we would all like to congratulate him on it. I very much agreed with him when he mentioned the value to the nation of good industrial relations and I hope, as I am sure we all do, that he will develop in detail at a later stage many points which he put in general terms today.
Another very important speech was made by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter). I hope that he will not feel that I am being in any way impertinent when, from a short experience of the matters we are discussing, I say that I agree very profoundly with a great deal of what he said. I should also like to add that since I have been associated with this work, and, therefore, connected with him on another Bill as well as this one, I have realised how much some one like me can learn from his experience and thoroughly good sense on these matters. I do not agree with him on one thing. 1609 He said that the Bill was a skeleton. As my speech develops I hope to prove that it is no more a skeleton than either he or I are.
Perhaps inevitably, this debate has shown that action in any new field is beset with difficulties. Critics are certainly not lacking even if their views frequently cancel each other out. At one extreme there are those who want to move both faster and farther. At the other, there are doubters sceptical of any move at all.
Somewhere between these two extremes I suspect, and, indeed so did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), that there are those who secretly approve of the action, or some parts of it, but publicly pour cold water on it because they did not put it forward themselves. From what the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) said, I suspect that some of that group are lurking on the benches opposite.
In reply to the various arguments advanced, it will be my purpose to show, despite these conflicting doubts, that the action proposed in the Bill is both desirable and correctly balanced. If I am to succeed then I believe that as a start I must put the argument in proper perspective by re-emphasising not only what the Bill seeks to do but also what it does not attempt.
Its purpose is to improve the security and status of workers by laying down certain minimum standards. It seeks therefore to reward a period of service to an employer with greater security. At the same time the advantage of this longer notice is to be forfeited if an employee's obligation to give the necessary service is not fulfilled. It is surely in accordance with the principles of any responsible society that those who gain rights should also incur obligations. I am not saying that they are necessarily identical obligations, but they are obligations.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) said, it is also only fair that those who are concerned should know exactly what their rights and obligations are. That is why the Bill proposes that each employee should receive a written statement about the terms and conditions of employment. So much for what the Bill sets out to achieve. 1610 Now let me make clear what it does not do.
First, it lays down—and, I submit, rightly—only minimum standards. It does not prevent the negotiation of contracts with more generally favourable terms. Nor does it attempt to solve the wider problems of redundancy, to which I will return in a moment.
Against this background, I will try to answer the many points which have been raised. I want to start with those who wish to deal in this Bill with the small but disruptive minority of trade unionists who do not honour agreements freely negotiated on their behalf.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North was rather below his usual fair and high standard when he sought to build up a little castle merely for the purpose of blowing it down. If he thinks that there are those in the Conservative Party who seek to run down our record of industrial relations for political purposes, I should like to ask him to think again. I should like to ask him to read many of the speeches of my right hon. and hon. Friends. When he has done so, I do not think that he will feel the same again.
§ Mr. Prentice
I invite the hon. Gentleman to read some of the Motions put on the Notice Paper by some of his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have invited the hon. Gentleman to do one thing. He has invited me to do another. No doubt we shall both do them.
I know that in expressing their impatience with trouble-makers in industry my hon. Friends are voicing views widely held throughout the country. No one, whether Government, employers, or trade union leaders, as the hon. Member for Southwark recognised, can disregard the strength of feeling on this subject. Therefore, I have no doubt that my hon. Friends' remarks will be carefully studied, and all the views put forward on this point will be studied in all these quarters.
I make only one general observation. It is always tempting to believe that there is some quick legislative method of solving all the problems of human relationships, but I think it would be widely agreed that legal action certainly cannot 1611 substantially remove the causes of discontent which provide subversive trouble-makers with their opportunities. That must remain the day-to-day responsibility of management and trade unions. I hope that the hon. Member for East Ham, North will carefully note those words.
I have some doubts, therefore, about the value of any such Amendment in this Bill as a means of combating unofficial strikes. But in any event these ideas are concerned with a much broader issue than this Bill. The sort of Amendment suggested would affect the relations between employers' associations, trade unions, and the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) pointed out, this Bill deals only with the relations between individual workers and their particular employers, and it is for that reason that I tell the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) that there is no mention of trade unions in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) and many other hon. Members have suggested that this Bill should be extended to provide for severance payments or make redundancy policies compulsory. I feel that this vitally important subject must be considered on its own. The subject is really not so simple or straightforward as some hon. Members have tried to suggest.
Many progressive firms in industry are introducing new schemes and many people are advancing new ideas. Some people favour severance payments, as for instance does the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond). Others argue in favour of schemes on an industry basis—the cotton industry and tinplate industry are examples of such schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham, and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) suggest a scheme on a national basis. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) said that bodies with whom he was associated had a scheme, but he was careful not to say what it was.
Moreover, the problems we must examine are wider than the need to give help to meet financial difficulties in the event of redundancy. There is also the need for sensible planning of labour recruitment, efficient use of manpower, training and retraining. I am sure that for these reasons it is right for my right 1612 hon. Friend to examine all aspects of this problem with employers and the trade unions before reaching any final decision. Indeed, if experience on this Bill, and the complaints about lack of consultation put forward by the hon. Member for East Ham, North and others mean anything, it is clear that he would be severely criticised if he did not.
I turn now to some of the substantive provisions of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Southwark suggested that few people would be better of in respect of notice, and the hon. Member for Gloucester suggested that there was something psychologically wrong in introducing a Measure containing periods of notice. I am glad that that argument was completely demolished by a refreshing speech from the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). He drew on experience, which he rightly suggested that I had not got, to point out the real value of longer notice. I was glad that the gentleman whom he suggested fired people on the spot was called "White", and did not add anything after it. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) suggested that White is not a Scottish name. Whether or not that is true, White-law happens to be so. We would all agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West in his view about the collective memory of trade unionists. The hon. Member for East Ham, North also supported the principle of longer service.
At present, the great majority of our 15 million manual workers have a right to only a week's notice, no matter how long they have served their employers. The Bill therefore brings about a great improvement in the situation for all those workers with more than two years' service. The hon. Member for Southwark estimated that the Bill would cover about 5 million workers. That is not an insignificant figure but, even so, that is only his estimate. My view is that the figure may well be somewhat larger. In any case, I stress what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, namely, that the Bill lays down minimum standards not only in respect of the period of notice but also in relation to service. I hope that as a result of the Bill employers will be encouraged to consider giving longer notice to more of their employees than merely those who benefit directly from the Bill. That already happens in some 1613 industries. If this process develops the Bill will clearly be an instrument by which longer notice is given to even more people.
I know that at present, where only a week's notice is required, many employers would not dream of standing on their rights and sacking employees who had been with them for upwards of two years with only the bare minimum of notice. But there are some who do stand on their rights. In any case, it is the right that counts. This matter should not be left to the good will of the employer. By granting the right the Bill gives real security.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and others have suggested that the Bill should provide for still longer notice being given to employees with, say, 10 years' service or more. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher suggested that as it stood the Bill created three different classes of citizen. I would point out that the proposal which he put forward would create up to 50 different classes. The minimum periods of notice have been chosen because they correspond broadly to what progressive employers provide. There are employers who give still longer notice to employees with 10 or more years' service, but the practice is not widespread enough to warrant the Bill's laying it down as a minimum. Anyway, I must stress once more that the Bill sets only a minimum standard.
I hope that by drawing attention to the question of notice the Bill will stimulate firms and industries to set still higher standards, as their circumstances permit. Again, if the Bill achieves that, it will bring benefit to even more people.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West and my hon. Friend the Member fog Mitcham suggested that in some industries where short-term engagements are common many workers will not benefit from the notice provisions. This is true of the construction and shipbuilding industries. The dilemma here is that in those industries the attachment of the worker, in the main, is to the industry rather than to any one firm. The Bill is concerned with the rights which exist as between the individual employer and worker. It would obviously not be fair to impose upon an employer obligations towards a worker on the basis of that worker's 1614 employment in the industry as a whole. The solution, I think, must lie in progress within these industries on a voluntary basis as my right hon. Friend pointed out. There are clear grounds for hoping that longer notice may soon become the rule here also. If by setting a minimum period of notice the Bill stimulates interest in this whole idea, it may very well assist these industries.
It should not be overlooked that in both industries there is a substantial body of employees who remain with the same firm indefinitely. These people will of course benefit. I had intended to mention to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) that I had noted his point regarding people with contracts for services and we will consider it.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North suggested that, in the absence of accepted dismissal procedures, employers might abuse the right of summary dismissal and might tend to do so more because of the provisions of the Bill. I do not believe that there is a risk that employers will abuse the right of summary dismissal in order to avoid the obligation to give longer notice. They are even less likely to do so successfully because they could be taken to court and made to pay damages for wrongful dismissal. It is possible that employers will be more willing to exercise the right when it is justified but there can be no quarrel about that.
In general it has to be faced that dismissal procedures in this country are not well developed. The hon. Member for Southwark referred to an individual case about which he was good enough to notify my right hon. Friend and I thank him for that. This case illustrated the sort of problem which could arise. However, the British Employers' Confederation and the T.U.C. are jointly discussing the subject. Good dismissal procedures could contribute greatly to improved labour relations and give a better sense of security. My right hon. Friend would welcome progress in these joint discussions and, if the hon. Member for East Ham, North, after what he has said, can give us any help in that respect we shall welcome it.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West and other hon. Members have criticised the Bill, because it provides for longer notice 1615 to be given on both sides and not just by the employer. I must point out, in view of the weight of opinion about this that the principle of equal notice is not new. Most workers now have to give as much notice as they are entitled to receive. In some industries where longer notice has been introduced it has been on reciprocal grounds. The pottery, printing and furniture industries are examples.
Since the Bill gives workers many new rights it is not unfair that they should have reasonable obligations also. Of course the employer need not stand on his rights and hon. Members have pointed out that reasonable employers, faced with making men redundant, will allow those who have found other jobs to leave before the end of their notice. The Bill does nothing to discourage this. But I recognise that there may be some employers who would try to hang on to employees in an unreasonable manner. It is true that many progressive employers give longer notice to their workers than they ask in return. My right hon. Friend said that he intended to take into account the views expressed on this point when reaching a final decision on the question of notice to be given by workers. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend will give very careful consideration to all the points which have been made on this subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) criticised the provision in Clause 2 that the period of notice should be based on average earnings during the previous six months. His criticism and that of other hon. Members took two forms. The first was that the method of calculation will create anomalies. The second was that it will cause excessive clerical work.
I will deal with the second criticism first, because I cannot believe that it need be a major obstacle. Many employers already have records for their own purposes, and they will be perfectly adequate. Those who do not have such records need only to refer to the P.A.Y.E. tax deduction cards which they have to keep for each employee. Once these figures are available only a simple mathematical sum is required. I do not think that this represents unreasonable clerical work, even for the small employer.
I will, however, accept at once that the criticism directed against possible 1616 anomalies has much more force. Clearly we shall have an opportunity of considering these carefully in Committee. At this stage I only want to set out the reasons why this yardstick of previous earnings has been used. The Bill is based on the principle that a man who has qualified by service to his employer deserves special treatment. When he is under notice, he is faced with finding another job. Surely it is right to say that his earnings should not drop sharply at this time. It is also necessary to fix a level to suit the man whose contract does not guarantee him any wage but merely pay for work performed.
For these reasons, the yardstick of previous earnings seemed to offer the fairest and most practicable solution. However, having given this explanation, I want to make it quite clear that my right hon. Friend will certainly be prepared to consider alternative proposals during the later stages of the Bill, provided that the widely accepted principle which I have set out is maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher criticized the provision in Clause 2 (3) on the ground that the words—a reasonable amount of workwere open to grave doubt. The hon. Member for Southwark made much the same point. The purpose of the words is to provide a safeguard for both worker and employer. Without something on these lines an employee would be entitled to payment during notice without there necessarily being any obligation on his side to earn it. Further, an employer could seek during notice to impose excessive work on an employee, unless the employee, were protected in this way. However, we are only too ready to look again at the form of words.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North raised a question on the provisions concerning strikes and continuity of service, I want to start by making one thing absolutely clear. This is in no sense an anti-strike Bill. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that it is an anti-strike Bill is rather odd, when one considers that in many other quarters the provisions of the Bill have been criticised as being inadequate and not worth anything. If they are not worth anything anyway, I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman should be so worried about 1617 the strike provisions. This is not a major point.
The hon. Gentleman criticised the provision that an employee could lose his rights by striking without proper notice. Surely if in this way a worker breaks his continuity of employment it would not be reasonable for his rights to continue automatically. After all, it is the practice of responsible trade union leaders to give proper notice of a strike. I should have thought that the House would welcome a provision of this sort, since it does, whatever may be said, impose some penalty on the unofficial strikes which we all unite in condemning. I was very glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham in this.
§ Sir S. Summers
Does my hon. Friend accept that a short-term strike is better than an unofficial one in this context?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think I have quite got that point, so I will not comment on it. However, I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said.
I want to say a few words about the written statements under Clause 4. The hon. Members for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson) and the Western Isles suggested that the requirements in the Bill for a written statement of a man's terms of employment are unnecessary and will simply mean superfluous paperwork. I am delighted to know that the hon. Members for Southwark and East Ham, North, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham have all rallied to the support of this provision. They say that it is a good one, and with such widespread support I am clear that it must have considerable value. Of course the requirements will mean some extra paper work for many employers, but we are determined to ensure that there is no more extra paper work than is strictly necessary. In this connection my right hon. Friend has said that he will welcome any suggestions which would simplify this work, while preserving intact the underlying provisions and principle.
1618 My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire and other hon. Members have urged that the requirements for written statements would be unreasonable for casual labour in agriculture. The Bill does not require a written statement to be given if the employee leaves before five weeks are up. Many casual workers in agriculture do not stay that long or do not work regularly enough to qualify.
But I do recognise that there are special difficulties on farms. Farmers with only one or two regular employees may take on large numbers of casual workers to help with the fruit picking or harvesting and, with a succession of crops, some of these workers may stay longer than five weeks. I hope that it may be possible to find a way of meeting this real difficulty in Committee.
The hon. Member for Aberdare raised a small point and suggested that local authority employees should be excluded from the Bill. They are, in fact, not excluded and, frankly, I do not see any particular reason why they should be.
I cannot hope, I am afraid, to have answered all the points that have been raised. However, I hope that I have been able to show why we believe that it is right to act as proposed in the Bill. I do not see that it is necessary to make any extravagant claims for it. I simply say that whatever cold water may be poured upon it, no one can deny that the Bill represents an important step forward into an entirely new field of legislation.
It provides further evidence of the positive approach to better human relations in industry which has been pursued with considerable success by my right hon. Friend. It takes its place as an important Measure in this Government's wider plans to fit our country to the challenge of the years ahead and, as such, I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).