HC Deb 24 July 1963 vol 681 cc1622-36

11.28 p.m.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

Before broaching the subject of which I have given notice I will make a brief comment on the debate initiated by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), for I am very deeply interested in the subject. I congratulate the hon. Lady on having initiated that. I believe there is tremedous scope for voluntary activity in housing. What has been done in Scandinavian countries particularly shows the enormous possibilities of co-operation in housing associations.

I would only say to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary before he leaves the House that in Slough, where housing is the major problem, the price of land and the restrictions on the land available for housing make the prospects of housing associations almost impossible. In areas like that there must be Government action of a much bolder character, going beyond what voluntary effort can be achieved if there is to be any solution of this problem.

I want now to deal with the question of a company which has contracts with Government Departments and which has dismissed employees because they are members of a trade union. I have raised this matter more than once in the House and I have given notice that I would at the earliest opportunity deal with it in greater detail.

First, however, I want to say how much I regret that the Minister of Labour is unable to be here because of physical weakness. He has had the courtesy to express an apology to me on that ground, and, of course, I accept that apology, hoping that at the very earliest moment he will be restored to full health. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will not only reply to the points which I shall raise, but will report to his right hon. Friend on any matters with which he is not able to deal.

The company I refer to is called Securicor Limited. It is a company whose purpose is to protect property and bullion in transit. It is the largest company in the country handling this work. It has contracts with a considerable number of public corporations which have been established under the authority of the House and in association with Government Departments. It has contracts with B.O.A.C., B.E.A., London Transport Board, the Southern Electricity Board, the Southern Gas Board, the Metropolitan Water Board and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William Whitelaw)

On a point of pure clarification. The hon. Gentleman began by saying that this company had contracts with Government Departments. He somewhat qualified that with his following words and spoke of various corporations and nationalised industries, which I accept. We have checked as far as we can—he will appreciate that there are limits to this—and we have no information about this company having Government contracts with Government Departments. I should like to be clear on that point.

Mr. Brockway

I am doubtful whether I said what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Whitelaw

We will see in Hansard. If the hon. Gentleman did not say that, I entirely withdraw what I said.

Mr. Brockway

I doubt whether I said what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I thought I made it clear that I was referring to public corporations associated with Government Departments and which had the authority of the House and the Government. If I said more than that, I regret it. I very much doubt whether the Official Report will indicate that the hon. Gentleman's precipitate interruption was justified.

The issue which I wish to raise is of tremendous importance. My only regret is that I have to raise it at half-past eleven at night when attendance in the House is necessarily limited and when the issue will not secure the proper attention it deserves. I propose, first, to give a record of the facts.

On 3rd September, last year, Mr. Fred Walker, who is the southern district officer of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, wrote to Mr. Keith Erskine, managing director of Securicor Ltd., asking for an interview with a view to learning the attitude of the firm towards the establishment of a trade union within it. He met Mr. Erskine on 11th September, and Mr. Walker states that he was given an assurance that no employee would be dismissed for joining a trade union. The managing director did not concede that the firm would negotiate with a trade union, but Mr. Walker did not press this, because negotiations would arise only if a trade union organisation were established. Mr. Walker took the precaution of writing to Mr. Erskineon the following day, including the assurance that the firm would allow a trade union to be established, and Mr. Erskine did not repudiate this letter which he received from Mr. Walker.

As a result of that assurance, which was conveyed to the employees of the firm at the Slough branch, on 3rd October 32 employees enrolled in the National Union of General and Municipal Workers. They paid 5s. 6d. to cover four weeks' membership of the union and the cost of the union's rule book.

Two days later, Mr. Keith Erskine, the managing director, telephoned Mr. Walker, the district trade union officer, that he had been informed that a trade union branch had been started at the Slough depot and he proposed to stop it. Mr. Erskine went to Slough and, addressing the men, asked them to sign a statement that they would not continue any association with the union. He offered to reimburse them the 5s. 6d. which they paid in union contributions and for the rule book.

Under that threat, most of the men signed the statement, withdrew from the union and accepted from Mr. Erskine reimbursement of the 5s. 6d. The men who refused to resign from the union were dismissed by the firm. I admit that I am not clear whether the number was five or seven, but whichever it was the principle remains that these men were dismissed by the company, which has contracts with public corporations, on the ground that they had joined their union.

Of course, Mr. Erskine did not say that they had been victimised on that ground. He said that they had been victimised on the ground of reorganisation. There would seem to be no doubt, however, that the real reason for their dismissals was membership of the union. Why, otherwise, were the five or seven men picked out who had declined to sign the statement withdrawing from the union?

When Mr. Walker, the district officer of the union, heard of the trouble, he sent one of his officers, Mr. Biggin, to the Slough depot of Securicor, Ltd. Mr. Biggin was refused admission to the firm, but the managing director invited him to tea in the neighbouring restaurant. Mr. Biggin asked that he should be accompanied by one of the men. Mr. Erskine rejected this request and denied that he had ever given an assurance that trade union membership would be allowed by the firm.

Mr. Walker then telephoned Mr. Erskine offering to talk over the difficulties. Mr. Erskine refused to see him. Mr. Walker expressed surprise that the managing director had denied his assurance that union membership would be allowed and drew attention to his letter confirming this.

On 11th October, Mr. Walker wrote to Sir Philip Margetson, the chairman of the board of directors, offering to see him or to meet the board. Sir Philip Margetson declined to meet the trade union representatives. On 2nd November, Mr. Walker saw Mr. Smith, the Chief Industrial Officer of the Ministry of Labour. On 13th November, Mr. Smith informed Mr. Walker by telephone that the managing director of this company, which has contracts with our public corporations, had refused to discuss the matter with an official of the Ministry of Labour.

Subsequently an effort was made to bring about a settlement by conversations between Lord Williamson, who as Sir Thomas Williamson was the general secretary of the union, and an hon. Member who sits opposite who was a director of the firm. This effort to settle the matter by discussion failed, and no decision was reached regarding the dismissal of these men as trade unionists.

I first raised this matter in the House on 18th December. I asked the Prime Minister if he would give instructions to Ministers responsible for Government Departments that contracts should not be given to firms which would not allow their employees to become members of their trade unions. The reply was given by the First Secretary of State on behalf of the Prime Minister. In that reply he drew attention to the Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons on 14th October, 1954, which required that '…the contractor shall recognise the freedom of his work people to be members of trade unions'. After I bad pressed him, the First Secretary said: Officers representing my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour visited the firm, and I understand that the company has given an assurance that all its employees are free to join any trade union they wish."—[Official Report, 18th December, 1962; Vol. 669, c. 1078.] This statement was repeated when I again reverted to the issue in the House on the 8th July. The Minister of Labour then made the definite statement: …the company has given a categorical assurance that it has not dismissed employees for the reason that they are trade union members— and there was this further exchange: Mr. Brockway: It dismissed them all.

Mr. Hare

I have received categorical assurances that this is not so."—[Official Report, 8th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 841.]

I submit to the House that those replies by Ministers are contrary to the record which I have given.

In the Slough depot of this company more than thirty men joined their trade union. The managing director went down to the depot and presented them with an ultimatum. He told them that they must sign a statement saying that they were withdrawing from the union. All but seven did so. The managing director reimbursed those who withdrew from the union. He paid them their union contributions and the cost of their rule books, and within four days he dismissed the seven men who had refused to withdraw from the union.

If the Minister is not aware of those facts, and if he cannot interpret them as meaning that this company, which has contracts with our public corporations, dismisses its workers simply because they are members of a trade union, he must be completely unaware of what is happening in this company. Such a firm should be excluded from any contracts with any public corporation which represents Parliament, a Government Department, or the nation.

Mr. Keith Erskine, the managing director of this company, is acting like an industrial fuehrer. He is fascist-minded. He is exerting an influence within this company which is quite intolerable in this democratic age, and every contract which this firm has with a public company should be ended at once.

That is only part of my indictment against this firm. I propose now to submit to the House evidence to show that Securicor Limited is presuming to regard itself as an industrial M.I.5. The firm of Complete Security Services Limited is a subsidiary of Securicor Limited. The two firms share the same accommodation, and have as their chairman Sir Philip Margetson. The letter which I have here was written by the firm of Complete Security Services Limited in an effort to secure clients from firms in the Hounslow and Feltham areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) is indisposed and cannot be here, so I should perhaps tell the House that he has taken up this matter with the Ministry.

I consider that no company in this country should have been responsible for writing a letter of this nature. This company has claimed for itself powers of espionage among the workers of this country. The letter is headed, Complete Security Services Limited, 54/62 Regent Street, 6th Floor, Piccadilly Circus, London, W.1.", and is marked "Private and Confidential". It says:

"Dear Sirs,

Most business concerns however scrupulously managed, lose an appreciable amount of money each year through pilferage. This pilferage takes the form, not only of petty larcenies from stock, but also of misuse and wastage of time by employees, mismanagement or laxity of discipline on workshop or stockroom floors, and falsely entered figures on time sheets and vehicle schedule sheets.

In some form or other, this is taking place in your Company at this moment. We specialise in preventing this unwarranted sharing of your profits. Our services include:—

  1. (1) The supplying of undercover agents—a man planted among your employees to provide you with a complete appraisal of any unauthorised happenings.
  2. (2) The following of vehicles used by employees during the course of their work.
  3. 1628
  4. (3) The investigation of thefts, frauds and embezzlement.
  5. (4) Reporting on any person who may be suspected of causing dissention or inciting employees to defection.
  6. (5) The screening of prospective employees—a search into their antecedents and background.

Our agents are carefully selected and thoroughly vetted and their methods of approach, discretion and loyalty are of the highest standard.

Our consultant will be pleased to call to advise you, without obligation or cost, as to the most practical method of dealing with your particular problem.

Yours faithfully,

(Sgnd.) L. Davenport, Manager—

Complete Security Services Ltd."

I do not believe that any hon. Member, when he is able to read that letter in the cold print of our Official Report will be able to justify a private company's putting in among the employees of a firm underground covers of this character to expose the activities of the employees of that firm. This is an unspeakable denial of the whole sense of liberty and democracy of this country—and that a company of that kind should have contracts with our public corporations is a situation whch should be ended tomorrow, if not today.

I want to sound this warning: despite the hour at which I am raising this matter, and despite the small attendance in this House, this will become a foremost issue in industrial relations. The trade unions will not stand for it. The Slough Trades Council has already forwarded a copy of this letter and the facts to every trade union in this country. We shall have—rightly—strikes at firms which are serviced by this company, which dismisses men for being trade unionists and which applies to this country, contrary to all the British ways of life, the aspects of industrial gangsterism—the extra-State police methods—which are more familiar in Chicago than here.

Finally, I urge that this security service, the protection of factories at night, the protection of wage packets as they are taken from the bank to the factory, should not be in the hands of a private company with uniformed staff with truncheons on their bodies. It should become a public or industrial service. It is intolerable that we should have within our society a private force which in effect is a police force, uniformed and weaponed to act in this way, particularly a company which has the Fascist mind which my record of facts has illustrated.

This, in effect, is an extra police force in our society. The chairman of the board of directors is, as I have said, Sir Philip Margetson, who is the former Assistant Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. The members of this private police force staff are almost entirely ex-Service officers and ex-police officers. I recognise that in those two circles we have men of the highest character and men of devoted service, but when there is established a private force in our country recruited in that way and officered in that way we have a very grave danger to the democracy and liberty of this country.

If an industry requires this protection, it should be provided in one of two ways. In large industries it should be possible within themselves to organise the necessary protective service. The large monopolies should not have to rely on an extra police service controlled by a private company for the profit of that company. This should apply not only to the large industries. I suggest it should apply to all the public corporations of the country. If they cannot organise their own protection, their organisation must be inadequate.

In smaller industries any service of this kind should be a public service. It should not be a weapon carrying, uniformed service under private control. It should not be independent of the public supervision which I have urged. This is the bigger issue which we must face, but tonight we should make it clear that in the view of this House the dictatorial control of this company should not be regarded as compatible with service to and contracts with our public corporations associated with the Government of the country.

I have raised issues of the greatest importance. I regret that I have to raise them at this time. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us on some of the immediate concrete points I have raised and that later this House may be able to give its consideration to the bigger, long-term issues I have raised.

11.59 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William Whitelaw)

With the leave of the House, I will speak again in order to reply to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). The hon. Member is right to raise this subject, because we all recognise the immensely important rôle which trade unions play in our industrial society. We also value highly the fundamental right of the individual worker to join the trade union of his choice. We should therefore consider carefully any allegation that discrimination is being practised against workers who join a union and are dismissed from their employment on that account.

I will, therefore, start by setting out the facts, as far as they are known to the Ministry of Labour, relating to the particular activities of Securicor Ltd., to which the hon. Member referred. The Ministry of Labour were first approached about Securicor Ltd. at the end of October, 1962, when an officer of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers alleged that seven employees of the company's branch at Slough had been discharged because they were union members, despite the fact that the union had been given an assurance by the company that employees joining a union would not be dismissed on that account. The union requested the Ministry to take up this matter with the company. It also sought the Ministry's help in arranging a meeting with the company at which the union might discuss with them the general question of relationships between the company and trade unions.

Early in December officers of the Ministry had discussions with the chairman, Sir Philip Margetson, who, as the hon. Member said, was formerly Assistant Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, and Mr. Keith Erskine, a solicitor, managing director of Securicor Ltd. These gentlemen confirmed the assurance given to the union that men would not be dismissed because of union membership. In explanation of the dismissals at Slough, they said that the reason had not been union membership but the fact that the men were no longer regarded as suitable for security work.

Mr. Brockway

If the hon. Member believes that, how does he reconcile it with the statement of Mr. Keith Erskine to the men that he had never said that trade union membership would be allowed; and with the fact that he said to Mr. Walker, the district secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, that he denied that he had ever agreed to allow trade union membership? It was on that ground that he asked them, to sign a statement withdrawing from the union.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Member has referred to the high standing and qualities of character of these gentlemen. They have given categorical assurances to the Ministry to the effect that the men would not be dismissed because of union membership.

Mr. Brockway

But they were.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Member must appreciate that when one is given assurances of that sort from people of that standing one is bound to accept them. On this occasion, the company representative also claimed that he made ii clear to the union that the company did not consider the normal form of trade union organisation appropriate to the type of work on which the company was engaged and that, while permitting union membership among employees, the company would not encourage the spread of trade union organisation among its employees or recognise the union for negotiating purposes.

The hon. Member will recall that when he raised the question of these dismissals in the House on 18th December the First Secretary of State undertook to discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend with a view to contact with the firm. I am sure that the hon. Member will be the first to appreciate that success in delicate negotiations of this sort greatly depends on correct timing. Against the background of the events which I have just described, my right hon. Friend did not think it opportune to attempt immediately a further approach to the company. On 3rd April the union again asked for the Ministry's help in arranging a meeting with the company. This request was immediately placed before the company by our officers, and on 30th May the managing director told us that his board adhered to its policy towards trade unionism and therefore saw no useful purpose in meeting representatives of the union. This information was conveyed to the union.

Mr. Brockway

Did the firm also refuse to meet the officers of the Ministry of Labour?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am seeking to set out the facts very carefully as they are known to us. I would like to stick very directly to what I am saying, because it is very important to try to give the history as we know it. I should add again at this stage that the managing director of the company yesterday repeated to an officer of the Ministry the previous assurances that the company does not dismiss employees because of trade union membership. In all these circumstances, we have to decide what is the best course of action. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the most profitable course would be for the Ministry to continue its efforts to create a better understanding between the two parties.

Mr. Brockway

It has been going on for ten months.

Mr. Whitelaw

The House will be interested to know that the Ministry is persevering in this and that a further discussion between our officers and representatives of the union is to take place next week. I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point about the Fair Wages Resolution and the other point later. As to the discussions, the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that I do not want to say anything tonight which would make it less easy to obtain the result and the understanding everyone is seeking.

I have dealt with the facts so far as they concern the most important question—the freedom of workers to join a union. I come now to the question which follows logically from this, the question of recognition. Full recognition and negotiating rights should depend on the union being reasonably representative of the employees concerned and on the employer voluntarily deciding to recognise the union and negotiate with it. This is really a matter on which the employer and the union should reach agreement. This does not mean that employers can with impunity refuse to recognise unions which are representative of a substantial proportion of their employees. In such circumstances unions have shown more than once that employers have an important interest in recognising them. Where agreement on full recognition and negotiating rights is not reached, it is often possible for the two sides to agree that a union should be entitled to make representations in respect of its members employed in the firm concerned. Securicor Ltd.has informed the Ministry that, while it regards the normal relationship between trade union and employer as inappropriate for the type of work on which the company is engaged, it would not be averse to arrangements somewhat on the lines of those in the uniformed police force. Again on this matter, I think that the Ministry's rôle is not to seek to impose any particular pattern, but to assist the two sides in exploring fully the type of machinery which would both meet the special operational needs of security work and at the same time enable the union effectively to help its members.

The hon. Gentleman suggested, as he has done on previous occasions, that an important impact might be made on this problem if the nationalised industries were called upon to include in their contracts clauses incorporating the full requirements of the Fair Wages Resolution passed by the House in 1946. This Resolution requires Government contractors to observe what may briefly be described as the recognised terms and conditions of employment in their industry. It also places upon contractors the obligation to recognise the freedom of their workpeople to be members of trade unions. There are provisions for dealing with complaints and various other procedural matters, but the main substance of the Resolution is in the provisions I have mentioned. The Resolution itself has no statutory force and its application is restricted to contracts placed by Departments of the central Government. It was for that reason that I interrupted the hon. Gentleman at the start. I am sorry if he felt it was precipitate. It was not my intention to be discourteous or difficult. I wanted to be quite clear on this very important matter. The Fair Wages Resolution does not, therefore, apply to the nationalised industries. It applies only to Departments of the central Government. Nevertheless, it is the general practice of these industries to include in their contracts clauses based on the Resolution. This practice is not universal, but in the case of Securicor Limited I understand that certain nationalised undertakings do have contracts with the firm and that these do not have fair wages clauses in them.

Decisions about the contents of contracts placed by the nationalised industries are, of course, matters for the management boards of those industries. As the House will be aware, the boards are autonomous in matters of day-to-day administration. It would scarcely be consistent with the autonomy of these industries for the Government to impose an inflexible rule that fair wages clauses must be included in every contract laid by a nationalised industry.

I have already indicated that it is the general practice to include such clauses, and this the Government naturally welcome. I am sure that the House shares this feeling. The real issue with which we are concerned tonight is that of the exceptions. I would assure the House that my right hon. Friend will consider further in consultation with the Government Departments concerned what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has said tonight. I emphasise that the Fair Wages Resolution does not require contractors to recognise trade unions. The House will, therefore, appreciate that even if the full terms of the Fair Wages Resolution were imported into all contracts placed by the nationalised undertakings, this would not, by itself, ensure that the contractors would recognise and engage in discussions or negotiations with trade unions.

As I have indicated, the question of recognition often resolves itself, given a little time, once a substantial body of employees has exercised their freedom to join a union. In such cases it is necessary, first, to create a basis of understanding between the company and the unions concerned. I can assure the hon. Member that this is exactly what the Ministry of Labour is seeking to do in this case and what it will always do in any similar cases which may arise in future.

I must now refer to the letter from which the hon. Member quoted. He read a portion of the letter which was sent out and I think that, in that event, it would probably be fair to all concerned if I read, equally in full, the statement made by Sir Philip Margetson, chairman of Securicor Limited, about this matter, which was given to the Press and which, I understand, was reported in the Daily Herald on 23rd July. The statement was dated 22nd July and it said: Following the publicity which our Investigation Division received as a result of the counter-ambush at Forty Acre Lane, East London, on Friday, July 19th, I feel I should give some general details of its work. The Securicor Investigation Division, the largest in Europe, exists in order to prevent wastage of national resources caused by theft in commerce and industry. It has been recovering property at the rate of£1,000,000 per annum, a figure which is steadily increasing and it is impossible to say how much it has saved. It is estimated that altogether industry including the vital export trade loses approximately £100,000,000 per annum from major larcenies and pilfering, a direct charge of wages and dividends. This is an important sentence: Securicor which itself employs many trade union members have given a pledge which is attached to every contract within this Department that it will not report on the activities of trade unions, or collective labour or on industrial relations of any kind. For some time now the note paper of Securicor has borne a condition that Securicor will not engage in strike breaking activities. The work of our Investigation Division is entirely confined to private investigation and the protection of customers' property. Securicor believes that it is acting in the interests of all workers because it is removing the burden of suspicion from the shoulders of the innocent to those of the guilty, thereby protecting livelihoods and promoting harmonious labour relations. There are instances where Securicor has stopped workers from losing their jobs by preventing the factory from closing down through heavy losses. All industrial and commercial investigation is done directly by Securicor. Complete Security Services Limited, an Associate Company formed by Security Services Limited, our parent Company, deals exclusively with enquiries for the legal profession. Neither this Company nor Securicor has ever desired or attempted to intervene in industrial discord or matters of this nature. Complete Security Services Limited issued a letter offering investigation services, in which certain phrases were open to mis-interpretation. Because of this, and because the services offered were outside their scope, the Company withdrew the letter after a dozen copies had been sent out. I think that it is fair to all concerned that I should have read that statement in full, in view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman read out the letter and—no doubt because he did not know of it—did not mention that it had subsequently been withdrawn. I therefore hope that he will think that I have done my best to answer the very important subject he has brought to the attention of the House.

Mr. Brockway

Before the Parliamentary Secretary sits down—he has not answered my case at all. Does he deny that this firm submitted to the workers a statement for them to sign withdrawing from the union? Does he deny that the managing director reimbursed the trade union contributions which these men had made, and then dismissed all the men who refused to sign that statement? That is what the hon. Gentleman has not answered. It is intolerable that a firm that has those practices should have contracts with the public corporations.

Mr. Whitelaw

I can only repeat that we in the Ministry of Labour have received several assurances on different occasions from the managing director of the company that the company does not dismiss employees because of trade union membership. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on how it would be possible for a Ministry to disregard categorical assurances of that nature. I really do not think that it would be right to consider doing such a thing, particularly when the assurances are given by people to whom the hon. Gentleman has himself referred as being people of very high standing and upright principles.

Mr. Brockway

Ask the unions.