§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The subject matter of the Bill is three types of agreements relating to employment. The first is that which is made between a trade union and a confederation of employers, or a trade union and one employer relating to the terms and conditions of employment. The second type of contract is that which is an agreement between two or more unions, whether of employees or employers. Mainly this would deal with what are known as inter-union agreements. Thirdly, as an ancillary to the first two categories, the Bill also deals with agreements between a union and its members or between an employers' confederation and an individual employer as a member of the confederation.
The Bill, for convenience, adopts in Clause 2 the meaning of "trade union" which has been used in previous legislation as including a combination of employers as well as employees. The 1767 Bill does not deal in any way with contracts of service between individual employer and individual employee.
The Bill seeks to clothe the three categories of contract with legal effect, because at present they are contracts which are unenforceable at law. Contracts between unions and employers or between unions and their members, or between union and union, are not at present unenforceable at law. There is one anomaly about that; an agreement between a union of employees and one employer is enforceable by the union against the one employer but is unenforceable by the employer against the union. It is this sort of anomaly which has arisen out of the Trade Union Act, 1871. It is that Act which the Bill seeks to amend.
In particular, it is Section 4 of that Act which is to be amended, and I should like to quote it to the House. Section 4 of that Act says:Nothing in this Act shall enable any court to entertain any legal proceeding instituted with the object of directly enforcing or recovering damages for the breach of any of the following agreements, namely,"—Then it sets out five categories of agreements. I will read the first and the last two because those are the ones with which the Bill is concerned.
The first type of agreement made unenforceable by the Act is:Any agreement between members of a trade union as such, concerning the conditions on which any members for the time being of such trade union shall or shall not sell their goods, transact business, employ or be employed:In speaking of trade unions, the Act refers to unions or combinations both of employers and employees.
The Bill would remove from that subsection the words "employ, or be employed" and thereby give legal force to an agreement between members of a trade union as such concerning conditions under which any members for the time being of the trade union should be or should not be employed.
Subsections (4) and (5) of Section 4 read:Any agreements made between one trade union and another; or,Any bond to secure the performance of any of the above-mentioned agreements.1768 These two are made unenforceable by the Section. The Bill would remove them from the Section and thereby make them enforceable at law.
The result of the 1871 Act is that it is possible, for example, for a trade union to make a contract with a federation of employers but for either party to break it with impunity the day after it is made, or for members of either party to break it regardless of their representatives' bond given on their behalf.
The shape of the Bill is as follows. Clause 1 defines the contracts with which it deals as—paraphrasing it—those relating to employment and to which a trade union is a party. Clause 2 defines a trade union as a combination of employers or employees with employment as its principal object. Clause 3 reverses Section 4 of the 1871 Act in the respects I have noted and has the result of making union contracts which are otherwise valid contracts enforceable by civil action. No question arises of introducing the criminal law into this relationship; it is purely a matter of making these contracts stand on the same footing as any other commercial contract enforceable at law. In short, Clause 3, if I may so express it, is the "guts" of the Bill.
Clause 4 would make a union liable for the act of one who was a member of that union at the time when the contract was entered into or at the time of an act on his part in breach of the contract. I say at once that this restriction is a limitation, for a period, upon the right to strike, and I shall return to that point when I address myself to a later Clause.
Clause 5 is merely an abundance of legal caution. It might be argued that other provisions of trade union law would exclude action if the act in breach of the contract were also a tort. The Clause disposes of that argument. Clause 5 deals with the result of a judgment against a union of employers or employees for breach of a union contract. As in any civil claim for breach of contract, damages would be recoverable on a judgment against a union for breach of a union contract. This is the legal sanction; this is the meaning of enforceability. But in any action between unions of employees and unions of employers, the damages should not fall upon the individual member or the officers of the union. It is for each union to take what 1769 steps it may choose against its own undisciplined member who may have broken the union contract. In this Clause, therefore, the damages are restricted to the funds of the union concerned.
I have not endeavoured by the Bill to set up any special tribunal for the trial of actions arising out of breach of union contracts. It might be thought right to do so, to refer them not to the courts in general but to some particular tribunal. I should not object to that. It would not disturb the main purpose of the Bill. But I have this basic thought on the matter. In my view, it is the height of folly to allow a strike to develop over the interpretation of an agreement. Reasonable people can, surely, refer that sort of dispute to arbitration of some kind, and who better to arbitrate upon the interpretation of a contract than our judges? So I suggest that the right place to put the trial of an action of that type would be before the ordinary judiciary. It is exasperating enough to the public when a strike results from employers and unions differing over the meaning of their contract but even more exasperating when production is held up by inter-union disputes over the meaning of some agreement about "who does what". If we could provide a proper enforceable machinery for the settling of disputes of that kind, we should achieve something in the national interest.
Before passing to Clause 7, I return to the point about the limitation of the right to strike. I hold the firm conviction that the right to strike is fundamental to the proper employer-employee relationship, but I do not believe that that right must necessarily include a right to strike in breach of a solemn agreement entered into, without duress, by fully responsible bodies on behalf of their members. Contracts between unions and employers are normally limited in time and provide procedure for settling disputes. Indeed, they should be so limited in time and should provide such procedure. Strike action to enforce the terms of an agreement when it is being negotiated is perfectly legitimate. Strike action when an employer fails to implement an existing agreement or is in evident breach of it is perfectly legitimate. But strike action in face of an agreement to refer disputes to a cer- 1770 tain procedure of arbitration is, to my mind, inexcusable. It may be said that that statement is too binding, that it is too restrictive to bind the parties in law to an agreement dealing with employment which may have been made one, two or three years ago when circumstances in industry change so rapidly. I have tried to provide for this by Clause 7.
Clause 7(1) provides that any party to a union contract may apply to the courts to vary the terms of the contract and, if that application is made, then, by subsection (2), the court shall refer the matter to an official referee. To those who may be unfamiliar with the name "official referee" in connection with the courts, I explain that, normally, such a person is used for complicated trials, say, of a dispute about a building contract or somethng of that sort. The courts have power to appoint any qualified person to hear the trial of a particular action, and they would in this case appoint a person experienced in industrial disputes.
Subsection (3) provides that the issue which is to be referred to the official refereeshall be the question whether it is just and equitable to the parties to the said contract, by reason of a change in the conditions of the employment to which the contract relates or of an advancement in the scientific, technological or technical knowledge or the systems, methods, equipment or machinery applicable to that employment, to vary the terms of the said contract as required by the said application.(4) If the official referee, before whom the issue has been ordered to be triedIn drafting that subsection I have endeavoured to take into account not only the interests of the parties and a fair deal as between employer and employee but also to consider the third party to the contract, if I may so put it, the national interest. I believe that some such flexible procedure would be beneficial, not only to the parties involved but also to the national interest, and would overcome the complaints that there might otherwise be 1771 a rigidity in this Bill in the interpretation and the enforceability of trade union contracts.
he shall order that the said contract shall be varied accordingly as from the date of that order.
- (a) decides the issue in the affirmative; and
- (b) is satisfied that productivity is likely to be increased by the variation so required,
Modern industrial relations would surely be impossible without agreements such as I have been describing between unions and employers. They are the foundation and the structure of modern industrial employment and therefore of industrial production. Yet the law gives such agreements no sanction. It is sometimes said that these contracts are contracts of deep human relationship and that it is not appropriate that the law should interfere on such a delicate matter. That is nonsense. Contracts of service between individual employers and individual employees are enforceable at law and always have been. I should have thought they were more closely concerned with the direct human relationships than the collective contracts made by unions. The simple reason for this freedom of unions of employees and employers from the binding nature of their obligations was the feeling, a hundred years ago, that unions of employees were oppressed and that they needed protection and freedom in which to work for their members, without fear of civil claim or criminal prosecution.
The unions of employees are not in that weak position today. There is every reason not to continue this privilege of freedom from the law. The fact is that the present state of the law is a positive encouragement and inducement to those of ill-will who wish to disrupt industrial relations. The members of a union have joined it, whether they are employees joining a union or employers joining a confederation, so that they may bargain and negotiate between one another to their advantage and upon terms or conditions upon which they employ or are employed. After a long period of collective bargaining, with representatives from both sides freely negotiating, an agreement is reached, a bond is made between those speaking for millions of men on one side and those speaking for millions of capital, whether private enterprise capital or State capital on the other side.
Why should the law continue to say that it does not recognise such a solemn agreement as having any force or mean- 1772 ing? The result of the law ignoring those honourable obligations between great and reputable unions and great and reputable captains of industry is that any man of ill-will can foment a breach of them with complete impunity.
This is important at the present time when all our efforts are directed towards an incomes policy. How can one have an incomes policy without having any hope that agreements between the two sides of industry can be kept and made enforceable? It is absolutely necessary as a basis of an incomes policy to be assured that union contracts are kept and are enforceable.
The annual address of Sir Andrew McCance to his company, Colvilles Ltd., in February of this year referred to the 32 strikes which the company had between 1st May and 30th September last and the unbelievable trivialities, as he expressed it, which had caused these strikes. Referring to demarcation disputes and certain token strikes, he said:When interruptions of this kind interfere with production, the length of the stoppage cannot be foreseen and we are deprived of the power to promise a definite delivery date for orders that are offered to us—so orders go elsewhere.The trouble is that today trade unions enjoy a privileged position under the Trades Dispute Act. They have taken advantage of this position far beyond the original intention, and that advantage is now damaging British industry and is damaging British prestige abroad.The principle that those engaged in national or industrial activities should act in a responsible way and be accountable to the public for their actions has been frequently and widely emphasised. It is a principle which demands no one-sided application. The instances I have quoted are only a few of many occurrences in which public accountability has been flagrantly disregarded.This is a major point I have had in mind in drafting the Bill and I have endeavoured to introduce into Clause 7 of the Bill the principle that we should recognise in connection with these contracts that, because they are now made between such major undertakings, the public are concerned as well as the parties to the contract. To complete the quotation from Sir Andrew McCance's Report:Amendments to the Trades Dispute Act are overdue. Trade unions who have been the strongest critics of privilege in other spheres have not been averse to taking advantage of all the privileges which favour them. If they 1773 do not recognise it, they must be made to recognise that wage agreements are contracts in no way different from other commercial contracts and entitled to the same protection. This logical point of view has already been recognised in other countries in which the freedom from industrial stoppage has been ended. If Britain's difficulties are to be overcome it must also be accepted in Britain.I hope that the House will endorse the plea that we should recognise the enforceability of union contracts and will agree that no longer should trade unions be bracketed in law with mental defectives as people who cannot be bound by their contracts. We should now show the respect of the law towards the great and honourable agreements I have tried to describe and should make them enforceable at law.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I listened with very very keen attention to what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said in submitting his Bill. I am sure that we all agree that he spoke very moderately. We do not often have an opportunity to discuss the issue that he has raised, and I am sure we all are very grateful for the opportunity. However, I speak in opposition to the Bill. It is quite unnecessary. We have already agreed in the House to establish a very substantial inquiry into the whole structure of our trade union movement, and that inquiry will take in aspects of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
I was astonished by the hon. Member's reference to the speech of the chairman of the steel monopoly, suggesting that other countries have solved the problem of lost time due to industrial disputes. I do not know any country, apart from Communist or Fascist ones, where the law has been used to reduce the time lost through industrial disputes. From the hon. Member's speech one would imagine that this is a serious problem here compared with other countries.
But the facts are that, compared with this country, there is five times more lost time through industrial disputes in Japan, four times more in Canada and about four times more in the United States, where they have the kind of legal sanctions to which the hon. Member referred. In fact, the only countries in the Western world with less lost time through industrial disputes than we have are West Germany, Holland and Sweden.
1774 Sweden has devised a means of relating, as far as is practicable in a free society, the income of the industrial population to national wealth production, and she has also to some extent linked the income with the cost of living. Sweden has done this on a voluntary basis, by means of self-discipline.
In West Germany—I must admit that there are not many industrial disputes there—there is a unique system of codetermination. The trade unions appoint trade union social directors to sit on the boards of management of all the major industries. Thus, they have some basic control of production, administration and policy. Where one has this accountability to industrial workers, technicians, and so on, it is, of course, bound to reduce the number of industrial disputes.
Holland has come as near as is practicable to a national wages and prices policy. That policy has been in operation for nearly 20 years. It arises not from legal sanctions against trade unions or employers but from a voluntary understanding between all the elements which negotiate wage agreements. Holland has reduced industrial disputes almost to nil. In fact, I do not know of a single strike which has hit a basic industry in Holland in the last 20 years.
I hope that there will be no suggestion in the debate that time lost through industrial disputes, through strikes, is a serious problem in relation to our economy.
In a free society one cannot withdraw from the working man or technician the right to withhold his labour. Far too many people have it firmly rooted in their minds that it is a crime for a man to go on strike. The worker in his trade union claims the same right as every employer of labour and every shopkeeper. If one goes into a shop to buy a commodity which has a fixed price, the shopkeeper will say that he cannot reduce the price because he has to meet his overheads, he has a wife to keep and he has children to educate and clothe, and he can do all that only if he gets a fair economic price for the commodity. No one resents such a claim on the part of a shopkeeper or manufacturer. The man is entitled to a fair economic price.
1775 In our society the industrial worker, the skilled artisan, the technician, has something to sell. He can sell his acquired skills, his intelligence or his muscles. This is what he has to sell in order to live, and he is entitled to a decent price for the commodity which he has to offer. The price he demands is a living wage, an income which will give him and his family a decent physical hold on life, an opportunity to live a dignified life. If that right is withheld, then he is entitled to withhold his labour power, to say "I will not work. I will not sell my skill, my acquired knowledge, my intelligence, my ability to produce. I will not co-operate with my fellows unless I receive a proper price."
This withholding of a man's labour is a fundamental principle of freedom. It is what distinguishes democratic societies from totalitarian societies. One cannot take this right from intelligent people by legal sanctions. I have had a great deal of experience in negotiations. I have been the general secretary of a trade union for 17 years. I have had to negotiate agreements the hard way, on a factory basis, working out complicated schemes of job evaluation in the chemical industry, a highly complex one. What is our system? Over the years we have developed a system of collective bargaining which has been copied in most of the developing countries.
Right across Africa there are joint industrial councils, systems of minimum wages, agreements based on hours of labour, annual statutory holidays and systems of joint consultation which have been modelled on our British industrial arrangements. These have worked well for us for the past 50 years and they helped this country to become the strong arm in the markets of the world.
In 90 per cent. of British industry there has not been a single dispute for the last 30 years, but, of course, it is not news to talk about harmony in industry. It is news only if there is an industrial dispute and a stoppage. No fine stories are written about the patience and the wisdom of 100,000 shop stewards who operate in our factories and advise their members and who apply complicated agreements at factory level and explain 1776 to the workers their rights and who tell them when they violate their rights. If a small handful of shop stewards have a row in some car factories which leads to a stoppage of work, that is news.
Most of our disputes are in new industries where new technological methods of production are being used and are replacing the old forms of skilled labour. In this process there are bound to be disputes about demarcation. A person goes to a factory to earn his living. That is why he works. If his job is in jeopardy and if he does not know what his future is and if his job is likely to disappear so that he becomes a labourer, of course he resents it and resists it, and he resists it through his skilled union.
There is nothing wrong with this. It is the most natural, human thing in the world. If it did not happen, the workers would be slaves and not free men in a free society. They are slaves who are denied the right by legal sanction to stop work when they feel that a grave social injustice is being done to them and their families.
In every basic industry in the land we have joint industrial councils where trade unions and employers meet whenever the occasion demands, usually once a year. They look at productivity in the industry, at prices, at changes in processes of production, and they agree that a certain increase is necessary, or that a variation in an agreement is urgently required, or that new methods of training are required, and they sign a new agreement. That national agreement operates over the whole industry, but in some factories considerable variation is needed.
A factory may be in the South or Midlands, where there is an acute shortage of labour. Where there is an acute shortage of labour, extra plus rates have to be paid to attract workers. This is not always necessary in the north of England, where there is some insecurity of employment.
Then, as with the motor car industry, there may be disputes for another kind of reason. In an industry like that, there is an engineering planner, a new name in industry, a skilled man who makes it possible for a target of production, often enough fixed by absentee directors, to be reached. Invariably, he is a very harassed man. He did not fix the target, 1777 but he has to tighten up the whole process of production, and often does so without proper consultation.
Often enough, this harassed man welcomes a dispute in his factory, because it gives him an alibi to his directors if he does not achieve his production target. Many modern industries are geared to a theoretical production which has not been discussed at factory level. If thorough inquiries were made, it would be found that disputes take place which have nothing whatever to do with the trade unions and nothing to do with the production workers, but everything to do with the technical men, the production manager, the engineering planner, being harassed and welcoming a stoppage.
Our society is now changing. Our industry is changing. There is larger production with fewer men. We need more arid more maintenance engineers and fewer and fewer skilled men and women. The old skills are disappearing and we now have millions of assemblers who assemble a product until it reaches the totality of the manufactured article. The assembler does not see the job through to the end, and so increasingly we are getting robots in industry doing one narrow specialised uninteresting job every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year, every year for ten or twenty years.
One reaches a point when a group of men can easily be provoked into a dispute because of the dullness and the repetitiveness of their jobs. Such a situation cannot be handled by legalised sanctions. This is a human problem. Step by step, wise men in industry will help to solve it by introducing variety, taking men away from routine jobs.
All my experience leads me to the conclusion that all the agreements in the world in that kind of emotional situation in a factory do not mean a thing. People do not deliberately go on strike. To come out on strike and to make a factory close down is to lose wages, which is a great blow to them. They do not do these things maliciously, but because in the factory there is some grave social injustice which looms large to them. It may seem a very simple thing to us which could be settled in five minutes, but it is important to them.
1778 The best way to prevent industrial disputes and to get harmony in factories is to have national agreements applied at factory level with the co-operation of the representatives of the workers in that factory. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for saying that I have never signed a factory agreement in my life without the shop stewards also signing it so that it becomes their agreement. When it becomes their agreement, they know what it is all about, and it is their responsibility to apply the agreement. In cases like this, disputes rarely happen, but they happen occasionally because we are all human beings subject to all kinds of emotional pressures. We are not serene all the time.
Disputes arise which have nothing to do with the agreement but everything to do with the personality of the foreman or the man in charge of a department and with the production target which is far too high and has not been considered on the basis of the factory's capacity. Therefore, I do not think that any legal sanctions will abolish the occasional dispute in industry which may be, I admit, in violation of an agreement signed and agreed on behalf of both management and trade unionists.
There is a need for changes in our system of collective bargaining. The old system which has served us so well is becoming increasingly outmoded. This is a matter for the trade unions and industry. It is for the Government, as part of their incomes policy, to bring our system of collective bargaining up to date to meet the problems which arise in a modern society, characterised by electronics and automation and the increasing use of science in production.
The hon. Member for Crosby referred to inter-union disputes. There are very few such disputes in this country. I spent some time in the United States of America at a session of the American trade union movement—the Congress of Industrial Organisations. The whole of the American industrial and trade union movement is split in half. A welter of disputes arise out of conflicts between the American trade unions. The American Congress of Industrial Organisations and the American Federation of Labour came together and formed the A.F.L.C.I.O., but there are still possibly ten times more disputes in 1779 America based on the conflict between unions than we have in this country.
In France, there are three different kinds of trade union federations. Dispute after dispute arises in France because there are Catholic-controlled, Communist-controlled, and Socialist-controlled trade unions. This is true of Italy and Belgium and many other European countries. We should be very thankful that our trade union movement and British industry are not divided down the middle on religious and political questions, and the trade unions split accordingly.
There is machinery within the trade union movement to deal with inter-union disputes. Every union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress agrees that if it comes into conflict with another union the General Council of the T.U.C. can intervene, bring the unions together and tell one union, "Your members should not be in this factory. They are in this factory in violation of the agreement" But the machinery of the Trades Union Congress is used only reluctantly. This is our way of doing things. This is how things are done in a free society. We use voluntary methods. We do not use duress, force or the sanction of the law to deal with human problems which are bound to arise in a society like ours.
We should leave the Commission which is dealing with the vast problem of trade unionism to look at some of the points which the hon. Member for Crosby has usefully raised. I therefore hope that we will not give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I have had the privilege of listening to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for many hours in a Standing Committee. I was certainly seized of the importance of the matter when he talked of trivialities. I have heard him in the House give a long discourse of 75 minutes or more at a very late hour at night—I believe that it was almost in the early hours of the morning—about the word "advice". He has kept us all up discussing what he considered to be the very great importance of the word "aim". I have heard him describing all the evils which could arise if we did not spend two or three hours 1780 of a morning discussing one word which he thought was so vitally important.
I had no intention of participating in this debate, but I was interested to hear the arguments which were adduced. It does not come well from the hon. Member for Crosby, having regard to his pedantic views on what I regard as other disgraceful trivialities, to describe as a triviality something which people in industry, rightly or wrongly, believe is wrong and who take a certain course of action because they believe it is the only course to take. It is a complete and utter waste of my time in the House having to listen to it. If we are to discuss industrial relations and the importance of productivity, I hope that we will not start at the rather low level of saying that if one side or other in industry sees a situation in a certain light it should be regarded as a triviality.
We are not dealing with chequers on a chequer board. We are dealing with people, with all their aberrations, problems and difficulties. Therefore, "triviality" was, I thought, a most unfortunate word for the hon. Gentleman to choose. However, it underlined one thing on which I have had the privilege of hearing the hon. Gentleman many times—
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's reprimand of me for using the word "triviality". I used it in a quotation from Sir Andrew McCance. I cannot recollect using it in any other context in my speech, except to question whether my Bill was a triviality and then to try to show that it was not.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not quite understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. "Unbelievable" and "triviality" were the two words which I wrote down. I understood that his main reason for introducing the Bill—and he prayed in aid the speech from which he quoted—was the so-called unbelievable trivialities which occurred. I assume that he prayed this in aid in support of his case. If I am wrong, I have misunderstood the point of his speech.
The Bill rests almost wholly on the argument that there are industrial disputes which, in the hon. Gentleman's submission, are due to very minor issues and which, in his view, hold up production and cause chaos. He referred 1781 —I did not get the exact words—to people of ill-will, I think he called them, who disrupt industrial relations. If somebody sees what is, in his view, injustice being done and takes what he feels to be the only possible line of action to deal with it, then he is, apparently, a person of ill-will. I cannot claim to have spent a large number of years in industry, but I have done a little stint. I have been on management and I have been a worker. I worked my way through, having served my time. I have seen all the various situations.
When the hon. Member interrupted me, I was about to say that I am coming more and more to the conclusion that as a member of the legal profession, his understanding of the fundamental issues of human relations in industry becomes less and less as his brilliance in the legal profession increases. If the hon. Member is entering this field, if he is trying to make weight in getting industry together and to help my right hon. Friend the First Secretary to achieve harmonious relationship so that productivity rises and our standard of living increases accordingly, I do not think that he will do it by following this line. That rather sums up my view of the hon. Member's Bill. I thought that it was a mean little Bill. I really do not believe that it adds much weight.
It is useful from time to time to look at the problems that occur in industry. My hon. Friend laid his case very well on the fact that evolution is now taking place in industry and in technology with new ideas. New skills are being achieved and new applications are going on all the time. If we could all start from base one and we could all be educated to the same standard at the same time, one could begin to look at the legality of issues to see that everybody starts square.
We have a situation developing in 1965, however, in which we are asking people who have been working day in and day out for, perhaps, 20 or 30 years, who, in their way, have become skilled and have established a status in knowing a job inside out, suddenly to accept the changing circumstances in which they see their jobs going. People are now asked to be retrained, to take on another skill or to do something entirely foreign to that which they have always done.
1782 This is where the human side comes in when a man loses the real anchor of security. Hitherto, he could place his finger in his lapel and say, "I have been doing this job for 30 years. You cannot tell me much about it." Now, he has to face something new, perhaps at an advanced age in life, and he is told that he will be placed upon the same level as somebody who is only just starting an industrial career. If, therefore, he takes a rather unfortunate, odd attitude to development, it is very often due to his fear complex and to his fear that he will be insufficient in the new situation. It is at that stage that one begins to understand.
Therefore, the first of my three points is security of employment. This is extremely important. Men or women must feel secure in their jobs. They must feel that their contribution and what they are doing will leave them to be able to fulfil their destiny, whatever that may be, in happiness and harmony. Therefore, their security depends not only upon their work, but upon many other factors. Few people seem to understand that an industrial situation in terms of disputes does not necessarily arise from an industrial issue itself.
The fact that a man takes all sorts of irrational actions may be due to a number of factors. He might be living in the appalling housing conditions that we have had in London for the last 13 years. Perhaps he is asked to live in one room with four or five children. That causes continual friction with his wife because of their conditions. There are problems of his children because of the living conditions. There is complete and utter frustration and exasperation because the Government have failed to help him and the local authority cannot help him.
When that man leaves home at seven o'clock in the morning, angry, annoyed and seeing an injustice about him because he lives in those abominable conditions, is it reasonable to expect that when he arrives at his place of work, he suddenly sheds all this and becomes a delightful chap, the friend of all, the glad hand? Of course not. When he arrives at his employment he is angry and annoyed and he sees no purpose in going there, because he realises that when he has finished he 1783 has to go back to the conditions which he has just left.
Therefore, in that context he becomes to some extent irrational. He is liable to do irrational things. This has nothing to do with industry. I fail to see how we can legislate in a Bill of this kind that because men like that see something which they believe to be wrong, the whole weight of the law should be brought down upon them to call them to order.
The best advice which I have ever had—and I have always accepted it—is not to get mixed up with the law at any stage. By his Bill, however, the hon. Member for Crosby suggests that at every odd moment, whenever an item of dispute occurs in industry, we ought to apply the law. I have often been known to say that there are many restrictive practices in many places, but I am sure that the civil law will have to remove a large number of restrictive practices if it is to become possible to take every industrial dispute to law.
I recall the problems which I have had in trying to get a case to court when a person was being turned out and when the matter was urgent, but there was scarcely time to do it. Does the hon. Member suggest that he would put more pressure on the courts to be able to investigate these problems? Security in industry is, therefore, an important factor. I hope that I have established that it depends upon many things outside the industrial context.
The next thing to which I should like to call attention is consultation in industry. I suppose that during my time I have taught many people the importance of industrial relations and consultation. At all times, everybody—employers, trade unionists and workers—assures me that he understands what joint consultation means. People are sure that they practise it in their respective spheres. I am bound to observe that in my view there are as many views of consultation as there are of people who say that they practise it. Everybody seems to see this in an altogether different way.
It is in this field that the hon. Member is trying to meddle with his Bill. The gravamen of his speech was that 1784 there should be better consultation. I am 100 per cent. sure that industry has today to understand that it is a matter of partnership, of everybody pulling on the same rope, but, what is more important, pulling in the same direction, and that the ideas of "we" and "they" are a thing of the past.
It takes time, however, to establish this in the minds of men, not only workmen. The idea that a man who wears a boiler suit is something less than the man who wears a white collar and a tie, is rubbish. The man in the workshop wears his boiler suit as his uniform of servitude, as I in this House wear this suit and this collar and this tie as my uniform of servitude. The uniform is no gauge of anybody's respectability or of his respectability mentally, and I would urge people not to get into their minds that people on the bench or at the lower end of the wages structure are necessarily fools.
I have known many men whom I would have wished to upgrade to higher jobs, who were quite prepared to stay where they were earning rather lower wages, and they were so prepared because they were voluntary workers in other, in social, fields. Some were members of local authorities, councillors, some hospital workers, some magistrates. Earning their livings as they were, they were able to get time off for their social work, whereas if they had taken jobs of greater responsibility and been paid more their employers would not have allowed them to go off in that way from their jobs. So they were prepared to sacrifice their chances of promotion, and opportunities for their ambitions being rewarded, because they felt, whatever we may think of their choice, that they should stay where they were at the lower end of the, wages scale in order that they might get time off and serve through those sorts of social duties. We cannot argue that because they wore overalls they were mentally subnormal.
Therefore, I say that in this field of consultation there is a great deal of work to be done, and it is not a field where we want the lawyers. It has been my experience, whenever I have had to take a problem to the lawyers, that I have seldom had consultation. I have always found that they tell me of the relevant portions of Statutes, and they have told 1785 me I cannot do whatever it was I proposed to do. They told me: consultation never came into it.
It would have been more helpful if the hon. Member had brought in a Bill to encourage employers and workers to consult. On the employers' side there is a deep misunderstanding of what consultation means. How often have I heard of this sort of thing happening, that the company board makes a decision and pushes it down to the lower levels of management and eventually a meeting is held with the employees' representatives and the management call that a consultative meeting. But what really happens is that the lower lines of managements put forward the views of the company's board which has made a policy decision, and when the representatives of the staff side begin to test it, begin to probe it a bit, the answer is that this is the board's policy and all the management are doing is telling the staff side, "This is the decision; these are the conclusions of the board." They say to the staff representatives, "We have come to consult you before we carry out the decision, but you have no chance whatever of altering it." This is the sort of problem to which the hon. Gentleman ought to address himself.
What the hon. Gentleman is complaining about is that when a trade union and the employers have come to an agreement it should be disputed afterwards, after it has been signed, and, as he thinks, freely accepted. I agree with him that there is nothing more exasperating than that one side or the other should dispute the agreement having signed it, but one of the problems in industry is to ensure that what is being agreed is fully understood on both sides. It is not always fully understood when the agreement is signed.
This is particularly true in a period of greater technology and science. It is not always easy for the lay representative of the workers to absorb all the intricacies, all the detailed technical matters, which the employers' side are putting forward. Remember, the employers generally pay quite considerable sums to experts to produce the sort of policy decision making reports on which agreements are sought. The layman representing the staff side is, in most cases, called in only at a very late stage. The proposals for the agreement are put 1786 to him by experts, and he has to make up his mind very quickly about them, but he is not trained for this.
This is where a Bill would be useful, a Bill to ensure that the lay representatives are trained in management techniques, so that when they meet management representatives they will meet them on equal terms—instead of the layman having to go to night school, or take a correspondence course type of instruction to try to gear himself up in the terminology being used.
Some of our trade unions have done what I think is a magnificent job in giving training to their members in this sort of negotiation. There would be some point in having a Bill to make it obligatory on industry to train people employed in it to negotiate on equal terms.
What I am trying to say is that it is conceivable that when management have eventually got an agreement with the lay people in the industry those lay people have not necessarily realised the implications of what has been said. Were there the time I could illustrate this from a fund of stories from my personal experience. I will select only one. I have always believed in consulting and discussing with the staff layouts proposed in a factory, about the lighting, the heating, where the north light comes from, and how the benches should be laid out, the distances between them, and so on and so forth.
On one such occasion a man said to me, "Well, Mr. Brown, what is the distance between the benches?"—because they were back to back. I replied, "Six foot" He said, "Six foot? You have got a lot of room to spare." I told him, "Six foot seems about right to me." His complaint was that whenever the staff had asked the management for an extra room in which they could have their meetings they had always been told that there was not enough space for that, and that man thought that here was space over and above what was needed for the job. He would not accept that it was about right and he went away feeling that I was allowing more room than necessary. He would not have it that I was right.
When, eventually, work began in the new layout they were very quickly hotfooting back to me urging me to extend 1787 the distance. What was the explanation of that? To the ordinary person not trained in reading drawings 6 ft. does not look like 6 ft. The trained reader of drawings knows what it means, can see it in his mind's eye. It is plain to him, but to the layman a drawing does not necessarily convey the reality. I learned very early in my life that the thing to do, when explainiing such a layout, was to put up a small mock-up on a table so that people could have a better chance of visualising the end result. Then they could better understand what was being planned and there would be better understanding of the agreement.
Therefore, I do urge that in industry we try to see that consultation is genuinely consultation and that it is understood that consultation means that employers will do their utmost to ensure that the agreements they seek are not just legal agreements, but that they are fully understood, and their implications are fully understood. They should be understood by both sides.
The hon. Gentleman argues that the trade union officials have signed the document, they have signed the contract on behalf of the workers and that, therefore, the contract has been accepted, and he feels aggrieved that subsequently the workers should feel obliged to disagree with it. He feels that this is quite wrong. Such a thing has been described as anarchy.
The point I am trying to make is so very real, that if the trade union official is fitted for his job he will understand clearly the agreement he is signing at the time he signs it, but there are so very few of such trained union officials and informed organisers because there is just not enough money to pay for them. The intricacies of a whole range of industry and of industrial agreements have to be understood by, perhaps, only one man acting for the employees. It is quite impossible that one man should be expected to do it. It is often quite impossible for him in a few hours of negotiation to be seized of all the important issues which are involved.
Although he signs the agreement, and everything seems all right to him, when it is put into practice he discovers flaws in it. These flaws become irritating. They may be trivial in themselves, but they 1788 grow in a person's mind until he becomes obsessed with them. He regards what has happened as the taking away of a right, and he leaves himself open to be persuaded that the only way in which something can be done about it is by taking unofficial action because his union says that the agreement has been signed and that nothing can be done about it officially, and the employer takes the view that as the agreement has been signed by the union he should honour it.
Although such agreements are legal, and have been entered into with the best will in the world, if a problem arises management must realise that the only way to solve it is by discussing the matter again. Management must be prepared to appreciate that there may well be something in the allegations made by the men who have to put the agreement into practice. Management must realise that some things which it regards as trivial are extremely annoying to the men.
Consultation is a matter of exchange before an agreement is signed, not after. If there is trouble while an agreement is being negotiated, management should be prepared to discuss all the problems with the men concerned, otherwise the situation will develop into a battleground for people who have ulterior motives.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) pointed out, the industrial set-up in this country is one of the best in the world. The trade unions have made a tremendous contribution to this situation, and it will be a great mistake, at a time when the Government needs the support and good will of both sides of industry, to try to find a fall guy. It will be a great mistake to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will be nothing more than a series of pinpricks to the trade unions, and will not get what we want in industry, namely, harmony.
People go to work to pay for the standard of living on which they have decided. They do not go there to be out of work. Nobody goes to work to be on strike. Nobody goes to work merely to be difficult. It is not my experience that the hon. Gentleman's legal friends go to work with that idea in mind, and I have not met anyone who is willing deliberately to lose pounds by being on strike and have to explain to his wife and children why they have 1789 to go short, or even to explain satisfactorily to himself the frustrations, the annoyances, and the bad feeling that is engendered by strikes.
Strikes are a bad thing, and must be accepted as such. I agree that on occasion one feels that that is the only thing to do. Such a situation may arise because a decision has been taken without adequate consultation, or because somebody decides that it will be useful to cause disruption in order to divert attention from some other issue. It is easier for somebody who has vast resources behind him to hold up production than it is for the man who is working for a weekly wage of, say, £15, and who needs his wages to pay his rates, rent, and all the other household expenses. He does his job to earn money.
If we are to get harmony in industry, it must be appreciated that there are human problems to be dealt with. People are trying to fulfil their destinies when they go to work. They are trying to ensure that their jobs are permanent. The Industrial Training Act will help to some extent in this respect. People now know that their jobs are unlikely to be of the "man and boy for 40 years" type, which they used to be, and that they will probably change employment from time to time because of technological changes, but they know that their employment is safeguarded.
There must be some sense of purpose between management and worker. People must feel that it is a partnership. Management must not claim that it is always right. There are many occasions when the top level of management is quite clear what it wants, but it does not know what is happening lower down. It does not know what is happening amongst its junior executives. It does not know what the first-line management is doing or saying. Very often there is no communication between the top, and first line, management.
Management must make sure that people on the shop floor understand what agreements are being made. Very often the first that anyone on the shop floor knows about an agreement is when it is put into operation. This leads to resentment. The men look for flaws in the agreement, mainly because they think that they should have been consulted before 1790 the agreement was made. The management take the view that it is up to the trade union officials to tell the men about any agreements that are made, but how are they to do that?
Do firms give trade union officials time off from their work to tell their members what agreements have been reached? Are the men to be brought back in the evening to have these agreements explained to them? The fact is that the agreement is reached, and the first that the men know is that it has been made on their behalf. They know nothing of the details until they are asked to put them into practice.
The hon. Gentleman's objectives cannot be achieved by means of a Bill. He is trying to do this in an arbitrary way. If we want good industrial relations, we must ensure that there is harmony. We must ensure that people understand that they are part of a partnership. Unless we can get this concept over to them, we shall never get the goodwill that we need in industry.
Management must play its part. Educational processes have their part to play. We must make sure that people understand their rôle in industry. If management fails to ensure that workers fully appreciate the part which they have to play in industry, we shall never achieve the progress that we want.
I hope that the House will reject the Bill. I do not think that it has been brought in for the right reasons. I do not think that it will work in the context in which it has been proposed. I think that it will create the worst possible situation in industry. I think that it will create the very problems which the hon. Gentleman has suggested it will overcome.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone)
First, I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for not being present when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Like other hon. Members who have studied the Order Paper, I expected the Bill not to be introduced until about a quarter to one o'clock. Consequently, I was concerning myself with other important business. But I have had the benefit of hearing the hon. Member for 1791 Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown), and I was most interested to hear what he had to say.
The basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument was that there is a need for better communication within industry. I go the whole way with him on that, but I was surprised to hear him say that he thought that trade union representatives were forced by employers to make contracts without consultation with their workers, and had insufficient time, or were incapable of representing the views and the practical experience of their workers.
I reject that argument outright. I have had a number of years' experience of dealing with trade unions. My mind goes back to the days of "Dick" Coppock, in the building industry. It would be an insult to him to say that he was not capable of representing the position of building trade workers.
I want to make my position clear; I am an advocate of trade unions. It may be a surprise to hon. Members opposite, but when my company goes to some of the under-developed parts of the world one of the first things that we advocate is the introduction of the trade union system. I was surprised to find that in West Africa the building trade 1792 union is not known as such, but as Costain's trade union. Nobody can say that I start with a prejudice against trade unions. They are an essential part of industrial life.
It is most important that we have the greatest possible amount of communication within industry. It can never be perfect. Even communications between staffs in office leave much to be desired. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury said that artisans were taking on civic responsibilities. Of course they are. Only this evening I am going to my constituency of Folkestone, whose mayor is an artisan in the building industry—
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I beg to draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that fewer than 40 Members are present.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—as I saw from my own observation—for Government Whips to organise a count on an occasion like this?
§ House counted, and 40 members not being present, adjourned at seven minutes past One o'clock till Monday next.